Well, it’s about time The Rolling Stones got around to this tour in their archives. It was big in every way you could imagine: big stage, big setlist, big dance moves by Jagger, big juicy guitar licks by Richards, big harmonies and big celebrity guest stars. It was their first tour after a long hiatus so, honestly, it had to be big. Anything else would just be anticlimactically mediocre.
So here we finally have it – a DVD/Blu-Ray of the Rolling Stones at the tail end of their American leg of the Steel Wheels tour, filmed in Atlantic City, New Jersey, December 1989. Appropriately titled Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Live, this remixed and remastered concert film may not contain any bonus material of backstage peeks or talking head interviews but it does carry one heck of a punch with over two hours of music, twenty-seven songs in all. If you saw a show on the tour, then you know this was an exhausting yet exhilarating thrill ride of a concert. To finally have it in pristine sound and vision is a delectable cherry on top of the proverbial milkshake. It’s available in several fun collectable formats, like a 4-LP colored vinyl, as well as the usual DVD/Blu-Ray with CDs.
The Steel Wheels tour ran from August 31, 1989 (opening in Philadelphia) to August 25, 1990 (ending with two shows in London). It was the Stones first US tour since 1981, despite releasing Undercover in 1983 and Dirty Work in 1986. Jagger and Richards, who were having a bit of a tiff during this interval, were focusing on solo material and touring on their own with new bandmates. It was following their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in January 1989 that the old lads got back into Rolling Stones rhythm, recording and releasing Steel Wheels by August of that year. The tour was announced in July in New York City and Q Magazine belted out: “Lock Up Your Grandmothers!” a play on the old 1960’s headlines to lock up your daughters. And it would be bassist Bill Wyman’s last tour with the Stones (he officially departed in 1992).
The setlist itself was a great amalgam of songs by the Stones throughout their career, including five tunes from the new album: “Sad Sad Sad,” “Rock & A Hard Place,” “Mixed Emotions,” “Can’t Be Seen” with Richards on vocals, and an excellent rendition of “Terrifying.” “We can’t keep recycling the old ones,” Jagger quipped upon introducing one of the newer tunes. They also pulled out “2000 Light Years From Home,” off 1967’s Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, and from Beggar’s Banquet, “Salt Of The Earth.”
To add some fun to their set, Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin from Guns N Roses, who had opened for the Stones at their Los Angeles gigs, showed up to guest on “Salt Of The Earth;” Eric Clapton brought some extra blues juice to “Little Red Rooster” (you should check out Clapton performing “Yer Blues” with Richards and John Lennon at the Stones Rock & Roll Circus, 1968) and who hangs out to play with blues legend John Lee Hooker on “Boogie Chillen.” Both Clapton and Richards can be seen in the background on the latter looking almost like two kids having the time of their lives playing guitar with Hooker; which goes to show, legends also have idols.
Highlights include the aforementioned “Little Red Rooster,” the gem in this collection of songs with Jagger on harmonica, Ronnie Wood on slide and Clapton’s solo at the end; Richards’ nastily scrumptious licks on “Bitch” and his sparking on all cylinders solo on “Happy;” the Jagger/harmonica – Richards/guitar combo that electrifies “Midnight Rambler;” the new “Terrifying” and the old “2000 Light Years From Home;” even “Satisfaction” is elevated to more than just a sing-a-long – it’s an extravaganza here; and just seeing Wyman onstage again with the Stones is such a treat (check out when Jagger pulls him towards the front of the stage during “It’s Only Rock & Roll,” where you get one of those rare smiles from the Quiet One).
Other notable mentions: Jagger calls “Ruby Tuesday,” “The sort of romantic song you can hold hands on;” Bobby Keys plays some fantastic sax solos throughout while Chuck Leavell gets his Keith Emerson/Rick Wakeman game on during “2000 Light Years From Home;” backup singer Lisa Fischer is, as always, a harmonic treasure; Jagger turns “Paint It Black” a little too posh (not their best live version) and the band seems to rush through “It’s Only Rock & Roll;” but overall, Charlie Watts is perfect. You can’t ask for a better, more consistent drummer than this man.
So if you love the Stones and have been wanting to see something be released from the Steel Wheels tour, you’ve now got it. I’d buy this in a heartbeat, with no regrets.