Rolling Stones | Steel Wheels | (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Five out of five stars
Is it ever possible to be truly satiated with the Stones? Considering the wealth of reissues and rereleases in recent years — the latest being the massive and expansive box set edition of Goats Head Soup, as well as a series of archival concert recordings on blu-ray, DVD and CD formats released by the esteemed Eagle Rock record label — one might think that there’s more than enough Stones samplings to fill the void indefinitely, at least until those wizened rockers are able and willing to commence their next expansive tour. Being that they’re already in their mid ‘70s, who wouldn’t doubt that Mick, Keef and company will still be back on the boards well into their 80s?
Whether or not that resolve and reinvention ever comes to a conclusion remains to be seen of course, but in the interim, fans have ample opportunity to share in their past glories. This latest offering, culled from the landmark Steel Wheels tour that coincided with the release of the album of the same name, is seeped in nostalgia, given that it was their first outing in eight years and the last with erstwhile bassist Bill Wyman. However, as always, the band proved that despite their archival stature they remained as vital as ever. Naturally, the hits were included in ample abundance; after all, what would a Rolling Stones show be like without such obligatory offerings as “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” Tumbling Dice,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Gimme Shelter,” and the like? On the other hand, it’s a mark of both their ambition and invention that they also delved into some deeper cuts — “Sad Sad Sad,” “Mixed Emotions,” “Rock and a Hard Place” — along with recent tracks taken from Steel Wheels and such catalog classics as “Paint It Black,” “2000 Light Years from Home,” and “Ruby Tuesday.”
“We have some new songs,” Jagger announces at one point. “We can’t just recycling the old ones.”
Good point, Mick.
The Atlantic City Convention Center stop in December 1989 seemed not only an ideal setting to reclaim their crown, but also to share the stage with some special guests — Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin,who made cameo appearances for what was supposedly the first-ever live performance of “Salt Of The Earth,” old chum Eric Clapton, who brings the band back to their blues basics with a fiery take on “Little Red Rooster,” and their early mentor John Lee Hooker, who saddles ups for a sizzling“Boogie Chillen.”
Naturally, those extra additives enhance what’s an already rocking, rollicking and robust performance, with the Stones adding extra verve, vitality and presence to songs that only hinted at that verbosity on record. Such was the case with “Salt of the Earth”; with Rose obviously intending to emulate Keef’s wobbly vocal intro on the original, the song builds to a fiery finish. So too, the archival chestnuts “Paint It Black” and “2000 Light Years from Home” are as vivid and emphatic as they once were whilst pouring forth from the record grooves some 20 plus years prior. Indeed, one never gets the sense that the Stones are simply going through the motions. Not then…not ever.
Of course, the audio experience, spread over the set’s two CDs, would naturally suffice all on their own, but the blu-ray allows for an encounter that’s all the more exhilarating, and with the pandemic putting all activities on hold for the foreseeable future, its an excellent way to get a full Stones fix by the best means necessary. Considering the epic stage set-up — a sprawling, industrial, post apocalyptic architectural monolith that loomed large over the proceedings and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million to construct — the aural element is clearly essential to the experience. Even from the distance of more than 30 years from the actual event, it’s still a breathtaking spectacle to watch and witness.
Which goes back to the original question. Are the Stones still essential? Given all that’s offered by Steel Wheels, the answer is, yet again, overwhelmingly affirmative.