It was the first of three concerts scheduled for Chicago’s United Center and, although it started an hour or so late, fans were too busy regurgitating Stones’ trivia and planning out their camera angles to pay much attention. There were a few false alarms when the house lights brightened and a few guitar techs walked onstage, but everybody stayed pretty cool and even tempered until the first shining chord was struck.

This leg of the Rolling Stones’ '50 and Counting' tour drew boisterous locals as well as drooling fanatics from all over the world. A man from the UK and another from Brazil came for the week. The plan was simple: Plant yourself centre row and then excavate Buddy Guy’s Legends on the alternate days – maybe you’d be a Stones throw from a Stone. After all, Buddy played with Muddy and Muddy played with the Stones. Could anything be more incestuous?

So many rumours flew amongst various club patrons in the city that hundreds of fans remained on Stonewatch for the duration of the concerts. But that was all gravy. Now it was time for the potluck. All in good form, the Stones ambled onstage and rattled off a very spirited ‘Get Off My Cloud,’ which was the perfect short, but sweet, opener. It was impossible not to stare at snarling Jagger, whose still remarkably slender body belied his mannish voice. It was easy to be seduced by Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards as their bodies floated within centimetres of each other’s elbows and guitars whilst their loaded arms kept strict time.

‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was another great, but lighthearted number. It was the dark ‘Paint It Black,’ which made the mind meander. There was a simple black and white screen loaded with magical moments from their early days that vied for attention. The content reminded us (in case we forgot!) that, even though this invincible band has survived drug busts, drowning and line-up changes, their exciting musical cargo continues to excite generations.

Sheryl Crow came up to wail with Mick on ‘Gimme Shelter’, and then the more slo mo and Gospel tinged ‘Shine A Light’ took the heartbeat back down a few paces. Things didn’t really escalate over the next swath of songs until ‘One More Shot.’

Alumni Mick Taylor played his heart out on the classic ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?’ – bleeding a series of blistering notes with insurmountable intensity like an anxious prisoner savouring his last meal on death row.

All came back together for the clanky cowbell of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ – with Watts’ impermeable pacing, Jagger’s sunken scowl, Richards' “Ain’t I hot?” persona and Woods commanding his axe and then responding to every glance, riff or vocal like his body was on fire.

Richards, wearing his signature bandana, hit the spotlight to perform ‘You Got The Silver’ and ‘Happy’, and sounded as crusty and emotionally present as any old Chicago bluesman, who has paid his dues, could. Taylor painted his ‘Midnight Rambler’ solo with languid blue strokes.

After Jagger wrapped his hands around his blues harp for ‘Miss You,’ another riff-heavy hit ‘Start Me Up’, sent shivers across the arena. After ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Brown Sugar’ sounded even sexier. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ lacked the usual Jagger mysticism and unbridled energy but, after more than two hours, the sin was easily forgiven. That said, for all that time there was no sense that these players, including laid back but dynamic bassist Darryl Jones, backing vocalists Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, and sax players Tim Ries and Bobby Keys felt the least bit fatigued.

After a huge standing ovation, they were urged back for encores. Roosevelt University had supplied a beautiful choir to join the Stones on ‘Can’t Always Get’, and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ was performed with the usual aggressive abandonment. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Stones concert without the divinely distorted ‘Satisfaction.’

As far as any Stones’ sightings outside the arena, rumours flew but few sightings materialized. There was one very happy fellow sitting in one of the expensive rows who later in a post implied that Keith Richards held his gaze and that they shared a magical moment. Unfortunately I’ll never be able to fact check this with Keith Richards who will most likely never read the question at hand; of course, he has another five decades in which to prove me wrong.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Philamonjaro at www.philamonjaro.com.













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