The Rolling Stones
Steel Wheels Live
Eagle Rock Entertainment
When The Rolling Stones released Steel Wheels – they were oldies, apparently. Veterans. They had all but disintegrated, disbanded, Jagger and Richards made middling solo albums each, the rest of the gang sat back and watched their leaders feud – and then when they finally got over it, or worked out the 2.0 Business Model they released a pretty strong record and celebrated their 25 anniversary. They’ve been celebrating it ever since. 30, 40, 50…the years continue to pile up even if the hits no longer tumble like dice.
For me 1989 was almost Year Zero as a Stones Fan. Not quite true – I’d grown up with their 80s hits and our family loved the albums no one cares about from just before their hiatus. But by the time of Steel Wheels my big brother was in deep with the 60s and 70s hits and so was I. We drove around the South Island listening to their greatest hits and once some new product arrived I was a total fan. I had a Steel Wheels album cover t-shirt. I stayed up late one New Year’s Eve to watch one of the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle concerts – Axl and Iggy from Guns N Roses (my other favourite band from the time) joined them for a song I didn’t then know (the excellent Salt of the Earth). And Eric Clapton (my favourite guitarist back then) joined them for Little Red Rooster (and added very little actually).
I played Steel Wheels a lot and though it was pretty good – and the new songs sounded pretty great in the context of all the old hits. Not just Toilet Break Tunes.
Come to think of it 1989 was almost Year Zero for me as a music fan. I was buying music based on my own tastes as much as I was influenced by the family. I still, happily, took cues from mum and dad and my bro but I was finding rap and jazz and blues on my own. Hard rock and pop tunes of the day. And somewhere around all of that I felt like the world’s biggest (and maybe youngest) Rolling Stones fan.
I would eventually see them live in 1995 (and again in 2006) and the shows were great, but they have always been versions of what they put in place here in 1989. Now, in various formats, you can check out the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour – blu rays and DVDs and double and triple albums – soundchecks and leftovers if you want. (I don’t want). There are some really good moments here though, like the song Undercover of the Night seeming legitimised and becoming a bit of a late-career live favourite, the new songs – particularly Terrifying, Mixed Emotions and A Rock And A Hard Place – not only slotting in but providing nice showcases for the evolution of the Ronnie and Keef show. And of course they give good hits. Honky Tonk Women and You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Brown Sugar and Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Start Me Up and Only Rock ‘n’ Roll. And, yes, it is only rock ‘n’ roll but you imagine a Stones show without those songs. I can imagine one without Paint It Black and Ruby Tuesday though, those tunes didn’t make it alive out of the 1960s. As you’ll hear here. But Sympathy for The Devil and Midnight Rambler sure did; they seem beamed in any time they happen and they’re foundational for any Stones gig now. And seemingly always have been, always will.
I don’t love The Stones the way I did. But I like to still check in on them. I’ll grab one of the albums and hammer it for a bit these days, then leave them well alone for a long, long time. But I have a certain nostalgia to The Stones in 1989/1990 – not just what they were doing then (old and new) as documented here, but just the way they occupied my psyche, became a gateway and a touchstone.
And so I cannot listen to this without thinking about that.
So as much as I never enjoy a live version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction particularly, and as much as I was both amused and amazed that they bothered to resurrect 2000 Light Years From Home on this tour (a fucking gem, the sort of Rolling Stones song I am here for) I loved hearing this and thinking about watching the London gig on videotape over and again, fast-forwarding the TV-ads, savouring the Clapton and Gunners cameos (even though they’re arguably the weakest moments of the show). That’s what fandom at a young age does. It gets its hooks in. And holds you. You spend some of your life trying to move on, if not escape. And then you’re sucked in again, pulled under. Held. Captivated though, rather than just held captive. I’m fucking glad for such reminders.
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