Bridges to Bert and Babylon (Part 2)

Rolling Stones - Blues Traveler

Soldier Field - Chicago

September 25, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 1997, Volume 4, #12

Written by John Metzger


The Music

On September 25, the Rolling Stones brushed off its opening night jitters and performed a vigorous set of mostly pre-1980 material that also contained a few notable surprises. As the lights went down, strange effects pumped through the $3 million sound system and with a pyrotechnic flash, the band launched into a raging Satisfaction. The Rolling Stones is very much alive, as Mick Jagger dashed wildly about the stage, ad-libbing lines over Keith Richards' blaring guitar attack. It was clear that this would be one hell of a performance.  The group carried the energy through It's Only Rock n' Roll, Bitch, Let's Spend the Night Together, and Rock and a Hard Place. Charlie Watts, the human metronome, provided quite a few riffs of his own, punctuating the songs with a classy flare. On Rock and a Hard Place, Watts locked into a groove with bassist Darryl Jones, driving the song to new heights as Richards proceeded to shred it to pieces.

After Jagger picked up an acoustic guitar, he stepped up to the microphone and announced that the Rolling Stones was going to slow things down with a song that it had never performed on stage before Sister Morphine!!! It was perfect. Ron Wood added some excellent, but eerie, slide guitar work to the tune, and Jagger's vocals were haunting.

Anybody Seen My Baby? was the first of several new songs to be performed from Bridges to Babylon. The tune settled into a groove reminiscent of Miss You. Richards added some excellent blues guitar licks, and Jagger broke out his harmonica to give this tune the feel of an old Rolling Stones classic.  Out of Control, also from the new album, featured a beat straight out of U2's Popmart tour. It was a bit of a surprise, but it worked perfectly for the band. Again, Watts and Jones locked into a groove as Jagger sang with renewed energy, allowing the selection to more than live up to its title.

Next, Jagger explained that posted on the Rolling Stones' Internet site, there is a listing of songs for which fans can vote. The song receiving the most votes would be performed that night. This historic evening's selection was She's a Rainbow, which also had never before been performed on stage. Chuck Leavell started the tune with that familiar piano riff as Jagger strummed his acoustic guitar. It was a stellar rendition that put a smile on everyone's face.

Jagger turned the show over to Richards, who sang a pair of tunes All About You and Wanna Hold You. As he launched into All About You, he never looked so alive. You could see it in his eyes on the giant video screen that hung above the stage. This song was the best of the two, with a bluesy emotion borrowed from Eric Clapton's playbook.

When Jagger returned, the band trotted out to a mini-stage in the middle of the arena to perform Chuck Berry's Little Queenie, which was originally recorded at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, not too far from Soldier Field. The band also pulled out a raunchy Let It Bleed and a rousing The Last Time before heading back to the main stage.

Before Jagger made it back though, the familiar beat of Sympathy for the Devil ensued, and Jagger began to howl into the microphone. The set concluded 130 minutes after it had begun, with a flash of light that burst into Jumping Jack Flash.

When the Rolling Stones finally returned to the stage, it delivered an outstanding performance of You Can't Always Get What You Want. Brown Sugar concluded the show with an outburst of confetti, and a short display of fireworks.

Blues Traveler opened the show with a 40-minute set of material that covered its most popular songs. But Anyway opened the set, driven by bassist Bobby Sheehan. Carolina Blues led into a rapid Business as Usual, which built to a swirling array of feedback before concluding. The band also tore through one of the better versions of Run Around, a speedy Gina, and a perfect Mountains Win Again, before concluding with an explosive What's for Breakfast?


The Soundcheck

We arrived at Soldier Field just in time to catch the Rolling Stones soundcheck from just outside the venue. It was more of a rehearsal than a soundcheck as each song was dissected and performed multiple times. It was here that we first heard She's a Rainbow. Also soundchecked were Tumblin' Dice and Let It Bleed.


The Sound System

Had there not been so much pre-show hype about the $3 million sound system, it might have been easier to appreciate it.  But leading up to the show and hearing nothing but how wonderful it was going to be, was a setup for a huge letdown.   The speakers did carry the bass much better than most sound systems do. In fact, Bobby Sheehan has never come through so clearly, and it was nice to be able to pay attention to his excellent playing.  However, by the time the Rolling Stones took the stage, it was a rare occurrence to hear Darryl Jones' bass glide through the mix. It was most noticeable on Rock and a Hard Place and Out of Control, but fell to the back of the mix for the remainder of the show.  In addition, the higher pitches seemed to blend together into a muddy mix. This combined with the incredibly loud volume left some ear-shattering results.


Scalper Scum

Scalping occurs in every city, but in Chicago it is particularly bad because it is legal. Calling themselves ticket brokers, these pitiful souls somehow manage to capture all of the decent seats for just about every show to hit the Chicago area. Combined with the controversial Sprint ticket giveaway, this meant that even those who found themselves on hold with Ticketmaster a mere14 minutes after tickets went on sale and were speaking to a representative 23 minutes after tickets went on sale, the best one could hope for was something around mid-field in the upper tier of seats.

It was nauseating to scan the Chicago Tribune the week before the concert and to see that there were tons of advertisements for tickets with terrific seats. Worse, the cost was sickeningly high. Tickets for opening night were as high as $700 a piece, and prices for the September 25 show were even higher.

This past summer, a ticket sales scandal hit Jones Beach Amphitheatre where good seats were being provided to scalpers directly from the venue and Ticketmaster. It would not be surprising to learn that a similar problem is plaguing Soldier Field and the New World Music Theatre.


Part 1 is a review of Leftover Salmon's September 21, 1997
performance at the Vic Theatre in Chicago.


The Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon is available
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Copyright 1997 The Music Box