Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Dozen Live Memories of the Rolling Stones!

Well, tonight may be the last time the Rolling Stones ever play a live concert. The event is going to be broadcast tonight live on Pay Per View all over the world. The concert takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, USA at 9.00 pm EST, on December 15, 2012.

The Stones are wrapping up a mini tour in commemoration of their 50th anniversary in the music business!  The tour started with two 'warm up' shows in small clubs in Paris, France (making this the first time in decades that their warm up shows did not take place in Toronto, Canada, interestingly enough). The official shows took place shortly thereafter, including two concerts at London England's O2 Arena, one show in Brooklyn New York, and now two shows in Newark.

While there are rumours that the tour will eventually continue into 2013, nothing has been formalized as of yet, and there is still a chance there may not be any more shows. I briefly contemplated a trip to Newark to see the show on Dec 13, but the cost of ticket and travel would have amounted to $2500, so I decided to take a pass.  I am certainly hopeful that there will be more shows booked, and shows for which the ticket do not run $800 each!  Quite frankly, I would be totally shocked if they didn't book at least one concert in Toronto - their unofficial home away from home. It would also seem ridiculous for them to not book at least one show in Los Angeles - perhaps tied with New York as the entertainment mecca of the world.

I was first introduced to the Rolling Stones music by a friend back in 1998, who suggested we attend their Bridges to Babylon concert at Toronto's Skydome.  After growing up in the 80s and ignoring music, it was during the late 90s where I started to take an interest in 70s rock. I had recently been introduced to the Eagles, Aerosmith, and KISS, and had seen them all live, and was highly impressed with the spectacle of a live concert event.

Seats in the nosebleed level of Toronto's infamous baseball stadium, the Skydome, were reasonable, so without even knowing any of their music, I had tickets in hand.  I hit my local used music store and grabbed a cassette of Hot Rocks - the Rolling Stones Greatest Hits album featuring tunes from their 1964-1971 era.  Come showtime on April 26, 1998, I had not only familiarized myself with most of their greatest hits, but had also bought a copy of their newest album, Bridges to Babylon.

Well, the show turned out to be what i consider to be the greatest concert I have ever seen in my entire life, at the point, and it had secured the Stones a spot in my list of all time favourites. Over the next 8 years, the Stones would undertake 3 more major tours, allowing me the chance to see them live, a total of 12 times.

Cashing in on the success of their 1997-98 tour, the Stones released a live album entitled No Security, which featured a selection of rare tunes that were played live on the tour. They also hit the road immediate again in 1999 to tour in support of this album.  At this point, I had become a major fan, and took steps to get myself a ticket in the 6th row on the floor for their Feb 25, 1999 concert in Toronto, this time, at the smaller arena, the newly-opened Air Canada Centre. This marked the Stones first Arena tour in almost 20 years, after playing giant football stadiums.  I attended this show with a much younger cousin, who at 17, was still old enough to be a Stones fan.  Seeing the Stones from the front of the floor was a tremendous experience. At the end of the show, we were both in a state of shock.  I looked at him and said "I don't think you'll ever see a better concert in your life". He agreed.

Fast forward to 2002, the Stones launched a tour in commemoration of their 40th anniversary, and released a box set entitled 40 Licks, which included 4 new tunes. This tour would be one of the most unique ever, as it featured three totally different sets and structures, as the tour contained shows played in giant stadiums, arenas, and small clubs. As was customary, the Stones traveled to Toronto,where they would spend a few weeks in a studio doing tour rehearsals.  All fans anticipated an infamous 'secret gig' to take place at some point.  It was August 16, 2002. I was about 5 weeks into a new job I had just started with the Ontario Government's Ministry of Citizenship. Word had just broken that a gig would take place that night at Palais Royale.  Access to the show would require a wrist band situation on a first come first serve basis.  As early as it was, I had been advised that there was already a huge line up outside of the club. Tickets would be sold for a mere $10 a piece!  So, the quest was on: find a wrist band for sale!  Using my crafty networking skills, I had found what appeared to be one wrist band for sale via black market for $500. Quite the mark up, but still would have been worth it. Unfortunately, when I followed up, the wrist band was gone. Oh well, I'd have to wait for the official tour to launch.

The first leg of the tour featured a stadium show and arena show in Toronto, and a stadium show in Detroit, Michigan, which was about a three hour drive from my home. So i grabbed tickets to all three gigs. I had a seat on the floor in Detroit about 15-20 rows back. For the arena gig in Toronto, I had to settle for a seat behind the stage, and for the Skydome,  I was on the floor about 40 rows back.  The Stones delivered sound performances each gig, mixing up the set list quite a bit.

When they announced an additional batch of Arena shows in winter 2003, I was determined to pick one gig and get myself the best seat possible. This lead me to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I spent a personal high $500 for a ticket to sit 5th row floor.  I made a weekend event out of it, attending a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game the night before, ironically against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I also bought tickets in the nose bleed seats for one show in Montreal and two in Chicago.

What will likely go down as the most amazing musical festival I will ever attend, The Stones interrupted their summer European tour to return to Toronto for a special concert to help the city stimulate its economy following a massive outbreak of infectious disease SARS.  A day-long festival was booked at the Downsview Air Base in the northern part of the city. The event would feature 12 bands, including several international superstars, as well as some of Canada's best musicians.  Tickets would be a mere $25 and the entire floor would be general admission standing room (ugh).

A bit of a monkey wrench was in my way though, as i had previously booked a vacation to Nova Scotia that week. Determined not to miss the gig, I booked a plane ticket for the morning of the show and flew in to Toronto.  it was one of those early morning flights that got me into Toronto around 8 am. I jumped onto a bus and went directly to the venue. being their by myself, I was able to weave my way thru the various groups of people and blankets and towels that had been laid on the grass to denote territorial claims.  I managed to get right up to the front, where there was already a wall of people lined against the steel baracade. I stood right behind them as part of the second row of a massive mosh pit.

5 hours later, the first opening act hit the stage and the event was on. for the next 6 hours, the crowd was entertained with 15-30 minute sets by Dan Akroyd, Jim Beluchi, Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, Sass Jordan, the Isley Brothers, the Flaming Lips, french canadian band La Chicanne, Justin Timberlake (who was pelted with debris throughout his set), Blue Rodeo, The Guess Who and Rush.

Then it was time for the featured opening act, Australian heavy metal legends, AC/DC who are one of my top 10 favourite bands. To have them on the card as the primary opening act, made another great reason to attend the gig. They hit the stage about 7.30 pm and launched into 70s hit Hell Ain't A Bad Place to Be. Although the crowd had been standing for 10 hours, it became its most wild, as heavy metal fans began moshing and body surfing.  5 songs into their set, I had to take a few steps back and free myself from what was becoming an increasingly rough mosh.  AC/DC played a total of 12 songs over 70 minutes, including many of their greatest hits and live crowd favourites.  This had already been the greatest concert of my life, and the Stones still hadn't even hit the stage!

After a stage set change, the Stones were out and ran through an 85 minute set, featuring 16 tunes that had been customary tunes on this tour. Being about 15-20 rows deep now in the mosh pit, I was still very very close to the stage and could literally see the wrinkles on Keith Richards' face! The announced attendance was 450000, making it the largest single day ticketed concert event in Canadian history, and among the top 5 in USA history. Somehow, I made it back to their airport and back to Nova Scotia, a mere 24 hours after I had left, to resume my vacation.

Two years later, the Stones were back at it again, with a full studio album of new tunes, and a world tour of stadiums that would span three years. I took in their 2005 show in Toronto, and their 2006 show at Wichita, Kansas, which was part of one of the most incredible short driving trips I had ever taken in my life.

Friday night Sept 29, 2006, I drove to Ann Arbour, Michigan, where legendary country/folk/rocker Chris Hillman, of Byrds fame, had a solo gig. I then followed Hillman to Chicago the next day, where he played two gigs at the infamous Chicago School of Blues, where I got the amazing chance of a lifetime to meet him briefly for a chat and, got my acoustic guitar autographed.

This trip also featured a Saturday afternoon football game in South Bend, Indiana, at the legendary Notre Dame Stadium, where I saw Brady Quinn and the Irish defeat arch rivals Purdue.  The Sunday featured what has now been my last visit to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, to see my beloved KC Chiefs play a football game - a game they won 41-3 over San Francisco, in what featured the debut of recent Alabama graduate, Quarterback, Brody Croyle.  The evening was topped off with the Stones in Wichita, a city they had never played. Mick Jagger joked that they were 'virgins of Wichita' and then launched into a bar of local tune Wichita Linemen. While my seat at this show was way up in the bowl, about 70-80 rows, it was perhaps the best show in terms of sound quality - making this the first outdoor stadium gig I had seen them play. The show also highlighted live versions of two songs from their new album which I really enjoyed, Rough Justice and Streets of Love.

After seeing the Stones play 12 concerts in a span of eight and a half years, it has now been more than six years since that last gig, on October 1, 2006, in Wichita.  I seems like a lifetime ago, and for many reasons, it was!  In 6 years, I have relocated to Newfoundland, run 30 marathons, and undergone a complete gender and sex transition.

As I sit here typing away, preparing to click into my digital television terminal to order tonight's concert on pay per view television, just a few weeks shy of my 39th birthday, an age once considered old for rock stars, I look forward to seeing 69 year old Mick and Keith, and 71 year old Charlie, bring down the house with what is sure to be a 5 star show. I can only hope that there will be at least a few more chances to see them live, in 2013, before they pack it in for good.


04/28/1998 - Toronto, Skydome
02/25/1999 - Toronto, Air Canada Centre
10/12/2002 - Detroit, Ford Field
10/16/2002 - Toronto, Air Canada Centre
10/18/2002 - Toronto, Skydome
01/08/2003 - Montreal, Bell Centre
01/10/2003 - Pittsburgh, Mellon Arena
01/21/2003 - Chicago, United Center
01/22/2003 - Chicago, United Center
07/30/2003 - Toronto, Downsview Air Base
09/26/2005 - Toronto, Skydome
10/01/2006 - Wichita, Cessna Stadium

Setlists and concert reviews for all 12 gigs can be found at fan site

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