The Rolling Stones
Syracuse, New York
By Dave Gardiner
East Coast Correspondent
It takes years of concert-going to catch an event like this. And my good fortune resulted from a ticket to the center of the floor where the Stones came face-to-face with their fans. It had been quite a wait, as the concert was originally scheduled for January 7, then postponed, leaving fans in limbo, trembling with the thought there might not be a show at all. But there was a show, and oh, what a show it was!
Set for 7:30 PM, I arrived about fifteen minutes before the Stones took the stage. Upon discovering the whereabouts of my seat, I knew I was in for an extra good time. My good friend DJ Dave -- who got us seats last October 16 when the Stones played Giants Stadium -- scored a prime spot on the front right corner of the smaller of the two stages. With Charlie Watts' drums at center stage and ready to go, I knew I'd soon be up close and personal with the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
It was during the band's opening number, "Satisfaction," that I realized my good fortune. The Stones turn a simple live show into a full-bodied musical experience, dazzling the eyes as well as the ears. The Bridges of Babylon stage is nothing less than a spectacular display of larger-than-life decorum and debauchery. The Carrier Dome's soft ceiling gave the concert an indoor feel, which made me think of the last time I saw the Stones indoors: Madison Square Garden, 1972.
Twenty six years later, Mick Jagger is still the charismatic frontman as he led the Stones through one classic tune and another. Each member of the audience seemed to cling to his every nuance. His Glimmer Twin sidekick, Keith Richards, was every bit as entertaining as the notorious, swaggering guitar slinger.
The first new tune offered to the Dome was "Flip The Switch." In its live form, it clearly confirmed the Stones' rightful place at the top. From there, it was over to the classic "Bitch," which started out a bit weak but tightened up a bit toward the end. During "Gimme Shelter," the Stones' lone female member of the band, Lisa Fisher, came out front and center, and gave the song an extra kick. With her soaring voice and voluptuous curves, Lisa played off Mick like they were a match made in Heaven. As far as I'm concerned she is every bit as much of a Rolling Stone!
A rare and slow "Sister Morphine" demonstrated the Stones' penchant for dynamics and drama. Keith and Ron Wood were both in top form through-out, giving their work-out the appearance of a fun and rollicking rave-up. The screen that hung above, with its high tech cutaways and roving camera work, made the whole concert an even livelier affair. Especially when they were focusing on Lisa and her long, luscious legs.
Another new tune, "Out of Control," was just that. Starting out slow and rising to explosive heights, the song seemed to build up the crowd's enthusiasm. By this time, Stonesmania had definitely taken "control."
In a moment of spontaneity, the Stones have been playing a different song every night on this tour, specifically picked on a daily basis by fans who cast their votes on the Rolling Stones Web site. Tonight the winner was "Star Star," a song I'd never had the privilege to hear live. Needless to say, I was elated, digging the 70's swing the band injected into the tune. I don't think I'll ever forget Mick hanging on Woody while they both echoed the song's infamous chorus, "Starfucker, Starfucker, Starfucker, Starfucker, Star..."
Then they went into "Miss You," far and away the best live version I've ever heard. Bassist Daryl Jones held down a steady bottom while the inimitable Charlie Watts kept things rolling with his signature beat. Along for the ride, on each side of Lisa, were singers Bernard Fowler and Blondie Chaplin, an odd- looking character who used to make records with the Beach Boys.
Sounding as fresh and vital as ever, The Stones longevity and stamina really came through "Saint of Me." By this time I was convinced that the Stones were at the top of their game, and could do no wrong. But the best was yet to come. They went on to do another new tune, "You Don't Have To Mean It," featuring Keith on the vocals, blending in nicely with a cool mixture of reggae and horns. This is a perfect showcase for the most expensive wino! But Keith wasn't finished just yet. His second number, "Wanna Hold You," showed another side, at his passionate best.
Suddenly another shift during the show occurred. This would be to my advantage. The floor of the main stage opened up, and a bridge came sprawling out, connecting itself to the smaller stage, conveniently located one folding chair from my seat. All at once, the lights rose up, and the Stones strode out and onto the tiny, striped down stage. I noticed the fans, many of them beautiful women, going nuts while this all unfolded. Just a few feet away, I felt like I was living in a dream. The Stones -- now down to just Mick, Keith, Charlie and Woody with support from Daryl Jones and keyboardist Chuck Leavell -- fell into "Little Queenie." At this point, I was right in the line of fire of Keith Richards. Closer to me was Charlie Watts, who looked like he was having the time of his life. To catch an intimate glimpse of Charlie in such a cheerful mood was a real treat.
As I watched the Stones deliver this Chuck Berry classic like no one can, my eyes focused on Jagger. All I could think about was that a real legend was standing before me. Compare him to Elvis, compare him to John Lennon, who once credited the Stones' success with Jagger's lip-smacking charisma. My friend DJ Dave said, "I can see Mick's dental work" while adding "he's definitely wrinkly..." Still, Mick has the energy of a front man a third his age -- his classic moves intact and solid as they were over thirty years ago.
My eyes danced back and forth, watching Daryl Jones with his precision basslines, Chuck Leavell's stylish keyboard work, over to Keith, Woody and Charlie again, back to Mick working our corner of the stage. When they unleashed the classic "The Last Time," I felt as if I had been transformed back into the 60's. They rolled on into Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," played with a harder edge than the version on 1995's Stripped. I gained a whole new appreciation for the song from this version.
DJ Dave and I continued to relish the moment. As far as I was concerned, the Stones could have stayed on that little stage forever. But I knew that this was coming to an end, so I savored every note, and spot-checked each member of the band as they wound down. Charlie seemed to really enjoy a group of girls who removed their tops and shook along with the riveting beat. It seemed as though Woody motioned to DJ Dave, who commented "he's a skinny little guy, but a lotta fun." When they finished, I was going crazy, knowing that I probably would never experience such proximity to greatness again. I watched as the band headed back over the bridge to the main stage, noticing Jagger lagging behind in the darkness. As a roadie helped him put on a long coat, I shouted, "Way to go Mick!" I can only hope he heard me.
The Stones exploded with "Sympathy For The Devil" as Mick took the spotlight back to the main stage. The staging and lighting were at maximum output while the visual effects of the screen lit up the entire Dome. They followed with a sturdy "Tumblin' Dice" and into a rocking "Honky Tonk Women." When I saw all the beautiful women dancing, I knew I was in Babylon.
Aiming to please, they kicked into "Start Me Up" and a rousing version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," complete with explosives and flash pods to finish out the set. The crowd was on its feet, roaring its approval as the Stones left the stage. Minutes later, they returned, with Mick strolling back to the centerstage. He went right into the first verse to "You Can't Always Get What You Want," conversely giving the audience exactly what they wanted.
From there, it was onto "Brown Sugar." A whirlwind of confetti scattered through-out the venue. As the band kept pace, longtime Stones saxman Bobby Keys led the horn section in an incredible arrangement. The song ended amongst total hysteria, as fireworks exploded, coming just inches away from the roof of the Dome. But this was more than just a flash in the pan; this was truly a celebration for perhaps the most vintage of all rockers. If I had to use two words to describe this event, they would be: "pure magic."
Editor's Note: This was one of the last "make-up" gigs the Stones did in America. They have since taken their Bridges To Babylon Tour to the Soviet Union for the very first time!
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