By Steve Newton
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 22, 1994
There was one nagging question on my mind after the Rolling Stones’ show last Saturday (December 17) at B.C. Place, and it kept elbowing for space in there with about a thousand Chuck Berry guitar riffs.
I couldn’t stop wondering just how in hell the Spin Doctors, of all bands, managed to scoop the opening spot on the extremely high-profile Voodoo Lounge tour. Could it be that when the Stones deserted Sony for Virgin Records, a contractual obligation meant they had to help a worn-out Sony act revive its plummeting career? At any rate, the Spin Doctors’ 40-minute “warm-up” set was a tiresome exercise in lame pseudofunk that no Stones freak (or rock fan in general) should have had to sit through.
It did help make the headliners sound even more impressive, though, which could have been the idea all along.
As if to drive home the fact that it has been around for more than three decades, the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band (next to The Who) kicked things off with a tune from 1964, the Bo Diddley–inspired “Not Fade Away”. Mick Jagger looked sharp in a two-tone, grey Sgt. Pepper–style coat, but Keith Richards had him beat in the footwear department, sporting bright-yellow runners. The flashy leather shoes seemed to incite Richards to shimmy and shake to the next half-dozen tunes, which were mostly fast-paced rockers from the past (“Shattered”) and present (“You Got Me Rocking”).
One new boogie tune, “Sparks Will Fly”, was accompanied on a giant screen by bizarre computer graphics of a spiky, flailing tongue, not to mention some of the rudest Jagger lyrics ever. I know it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but there’s still something mildly disconcerting about a 51-year-old bellowing “I wanna fuck your sweet ass!”
Although he may be in dire need of a good soapy mouthwash, Jagger is certainly looking healthy these days. By the time the band had ripped into “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, he had peeled off the grey coat, a purple vest, and a blue silk shirt, and was down to a tight black tee. When he scampered along the stage-left ramp above where we were located on the floor, it was clear the sinewy rock god has been taking care of himself. Richards, on the other hand… Well, he had Jagger beat in the footwear department.
“Any requests?” asked Mick after tinkling the keyboards on “Far Away Eyes”, one of the set’s rare mellow tunes. A partially zonked-out guy behind me screamed “Brand New Car!”, but Jagger must not have heard him, because he sang “Heartbreaker” instead—which was all right by me. “We’re gonna do a really ancient one for ya,” he announced before returning to ’64 for another cover, Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now”, which the band played while televised live in black-and-white for that archival feel.
It wasn’t quite the same seeing the Stones minus Bill Wyman’s standoffish demeanour, but new bassist Darryl Jones handled himself admirably, knowing better than to get too involved in the onstage antics of Jagger, Richards, and Ron Wood. The Stones got plenty of strong backup from vocalists Lisa Fisher and Bernard Fowler, and a killer brass section also earned its keep. Longtime Stones saxophonist Bobby Keyes was a particular crowd-pleaser, putting his jugular vein to the test during a frantic solo on “Miss You”.
The high point of the show came when Richards banged out the opening chords to “Honky Tonk Women”, the slinky classic that most typifies what the Stones are all about. During that number, film clips of such femmes fatales as Greta Garbo, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, and Queen Elizabeth II (!) were flashed on the huge screen—along with live shots of various local honky-tonkers shuffling in the crowd.
The most elaborate visual effect was saved for “Sympathy for the Devil”, when an array of giant inflatables—including a guitar-strumming Elvis, a nun, a goat’s head, and a punk baby—came to distended life across the top of the stage. While the Stones cranked out “Street Fighting Man”, various stagehands tugged on the backs of the balloons to get them bobbing along, then in a matter of seconds all were deflated, yanked away, and tucked out of sight.
Tidy folk, those British.
Two hours after it started, the Stones’ set rumbled to a close, but the crowd of 50,000 brought the band back for an encore of (what else?) “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Somebody in wardrobe must have had a Phyllis Diller flashback, though, because Mick returned wearing a knee-length black skirt over his pants and Keith had on a pink plush jacket.
Are those guys wacky or what?