Unquestionably there are optimum times to see musicians live. My gig going started in the mid 1970’s, I was too young to catch the Rolling Stones in their prime. For me, their last decent album was “It’s Only Rock n Roll”, which was released in 1973. But that was around their fourteenth album, from which they had produced almost twenty top ten singles. Their position in rock’s pantheon of greats is undeniable. As such, they came high on my list of acts whom I felt I had to see live , so when they included Sheffield Don Valley on their 1999 tour on June 6th I bagged my ticket to see what all the fuss was about.
In retrospect, the omens were inauspicious. It was twenty six years after “It’s Only Rock N Roll”, eighteen years since their last hit single “Start Me Up”. Support was Sheryl Crow, as bland and anodyne a rock star as it is possible to imagine. Don Valley was an athletics stadium, built in 1990 for the World Student Games, which succeeded spectacularly in losing money until it was demolished in 2013. Athletics stadiums are soulless places at the best of times. Don Valley was no exception. One main half decent stand, partially covered down one side , an open stand opposite on the other, and a temporary open stand at one end, where I was sat. Not exactly a classic rock n roll arena. Fortunately, it did not rain, a rarity for Sheffield.
I also do not particularly like open air gigs. Invariably they mean arriving ridiculously early to secure a decent view, and leaving ridiculously late, as the power crazed stewards who directed you to a car park so far away that there might as well have been “Welcome to Barnsley” signs, absent themselves meaning that thousands of cars have to try to exit from unlit, unknown points to unknown destinations taking interminable hours to escape.
Once inside if you want to have a good view at the front you have to forego refreshments and toilets, endure crushing, for so long that under any other circumstances, Human Rights lawyers would be queuing up. If you decide to accept a lousy view you are rewarded by the opportunity to queue for hours on end for watery, warm beer, and half cooked, onion soaked beef burgers for a price not dissimilar to the monthly mortgage payment on a large house.
Our seats were in the temporary stand, at the pitch end, opposite the main stage. This had the advantage that we did not have to crook our necks to see the band, but the disadvantage that we were positioned nearer to Derby than Mick and the boys.
The idea with support acts is that they should be “alright”. Not so bad that they are booed off, not so good that the main act is “blown off stage “ ( the ultimate humiliation). Prior to seeing Sheryl Crow perform I did not know a single song in her repertoire, afterwards. I could not remember a single song. During her set I found my mind wandering, considering the advantages, and drawbacks, of rotary, as opposed to straight line, washing lines. I also thought what fun it would be if she was on a bill with the Housemartins and the Eagles. That is how anonymous she was.
During the Stones set she was brought on for a guest role. Mick Jagger has done some great duets, most notably with David Bowie, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga. This was not one of them. They sang “Honky Tonk Women” together, far from being a gin -soaked queen, she resembled an embarrassed junior school teacher, forced to sing something at Assembly by the Head.
You would have to be dead not to be roused by the opening chords of “Jumping Jack Flash”, my pulse did quicken, as Keith and Ronnie sprayed guitar licks and chords around the stage, and Mick danced and pranced in the manner of someone just tasered by the Police. Yet once that Pavalovian reaction had subsided, reality sank in. A bleak bowl, 35,000 people configured in such a way that creating an atmosphere was impossible, and sound which made car radios seem hi fidelity.
There were some decent moments despite it all. “Ruby “Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Route 66”,“It’s Only Rock n Roll” and “Satisfaction” raised my spirits. The rest did not. The Stones did their thing professionally, but there was no connection, no spark. And so, I had seen them. And that was that.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
Live With Me
Honky Tonk Women
Saint of Me
Out of Control
Paint It Black
Before They Make Me Run
(Keith Richards on vocals)
You Don’t Have to Mean It
(Keith Richards on vocals)
Like a Rolling Stone
Sympathy for the Devil
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Start Me Up
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction