The Rolling Stones Focus on ’98 High Energy Bridges To Babylon Tour With ‘Bridges To Bremen’ (DVD REVIEW)

When The Rolling Stones first toured Germany in the fall of 1965, chaos ensued. They were still a very young band, having played their first official concert, sans drummer Charlie Watts, on July 12, 1962. With their love of blues music and, for the times, a scruffy wildness that drove the youth nuts with excitement, the Rolling Stones by 1965 were on a tear – they were touring, they were recording, they were notorious fodder for the British papers. So heading over to Germany in September of that year was just another country to win over. “Satisfaction” was exploding after it’s summer release and they were probably expecting the German fans to be just as insane over their music as their British counterparts. But if a recent show in Dublin was any indication – “As we finished playing ‘Satisfaction,’ fierce fighting broke out between fans and theatre attendants, stopping the show,” former bassist Bill Wyman recollected in his 1990 autobiography, Stone Alone – there would be more of the same on German soil: the first show in Munster saw mounted police charging fans; in Hamburg, fans without tickets rioted outside; and in Berlin, fans tore the Waldbuhne Halle to pieces.

But fans were much calmer when the Stones passed through Bremen on their Bridges To Babylon tour in 1998. Broadcast live across Europe, the concert was a huge success on several levels: it was the first time the band utilized a second stage, further towards the back, and it was the first time they allowed fans to vote for a song to be played during the concert. With the release of a new DVD from their bottomless pit of archival footage, Bridges To Bremen expounds these moments in newly restored audio and visual formats. 

Released on June 21st, the Rolling Stones have timed this release perfectly. With their spring tour having been sidetracked by Mick Jagger’s heart surgery, the rescheduled dates have just begun, so Stones fans eagerness to see them live will no doubt spill over into seeing them live on film. And it’s a pretty good show to spend your money on. Twenty-two songs (plus four extras from a Chicago date) running the span of their career, you can watch from your couch and then pop one of the two live CDs into your car for continuous Stones enjoyment.

One of the biggest things that make this concert so exciting is Keith Richards’ guitar. The sound is propelled in volume, almost to the point of drowning out his bandmates. But when he straps on that big black Gibson and that crisp 1960’s tone rings out, it’s like being shot back in time to when the Stones were young and pulsating. From “Paint It Black” to “It’s Only Rock & Roll” to the chilling “Gimme Shelter” where Richards’ opening guitar gives the song such a meaty new vibe that it slithers like a snake through your veins with the blood parting like the Red Sea to let it pass through your body. 

The late 1970’s hit “Miss You,” with Jagger on a red electric guitar and twisting his tongue around to give it a different take, comes alive once Bobby Keys starts blowing his heart out on the sax. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Tumbling Dice” are also extra juicy, never sounding stale. And their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” is scrumptious. However, “Out Of Control,” which was brand new at the time, didn’t have that swaggering sizzle it would in the future and Jagger still seemed to be feeling it out. But another new song, “Anybody Seen My Baby,” was slinky with Richards’ guitar hitting that sweet soul spot.

Truly, what you get with Bridges To Bremen, is the Stones being the Stones: Jagger is running, flirting, sucking all the energy from the room and exhaling it back out into the crowd; Richards is on point with that quenchable tone of his; Ronnie Wood is making faces and lending some sharp notes on guitar; Darryl Jones is humming on bass; Lisa Fischer is a treasure of a singer, with stage presence almost equaling Jagger’s; Chuck Leavell hits all the right moods and every time Bobby Keys starts blowing you realize how much the man is missed. And then there is the incomparable Charlie Watts who has probably never been rattled back behind those drums, no matter what Jagger has crazily done in front of him.

“On arrival in the city [Berlin],” wrote Wyman, “we were met by a huge police escort and a fleet of cars. The journey into town was amazing. Police lined the entire route and every road junction was blocked off by more police. We tore through the streets at 70 mph with nothing in our way. Later, we were told that the same security arrangements had been used for the Queen’s visit a year earlier.” That was 1965. In 2019, the Stones are still given the grandest of treatment, onstage and off, and they are still beloved by fans the world over.

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