Concert Review: The Rolling Stones — and a Healthy Mick Jagger — Are in Top Form at Chicago Tour Opener

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones performs during the "No Filter" tour at Soldier Field, in ChicagoThe Rolling Stones in Concert - , Chicago, USA - 21 Jun 2019
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With a massive stage, complete with a long catwalk, his to rule, Mick Jagger pranced, prowled, and grooved his way across it at the Rolling Stones’ “No Filter” tour opener at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Friday, as if to defy any concerns about his health and stamina. While the setup was not unusual for the Stones — this was Jagger and the band in their element, with Jagger’s trademark emphatic pointing and strutting command of the stage — it also served as a vote of confidence for the seemingly indestructible singer, who for the first time seemed a bit less indestructible when the group postponed this tour so he could undergo surgery to replace a heart valve.

Less than three months later, Jagger was back to his swaggering self and his fellow septuagenarian principals — guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and equally indestructible drummer Charlie Watts — were in excellent form.

“We love Chicago so much we decided to start the tour here instead of Miami,” Jagger quipped. He didn’t reference his recent ailment during the performance, and given the showmanship he displayed, no one would’ve been the wiser had the news not made headlines. His hip-shaking exuberance reassured fans that not only is he more than on the mend, but he was primed for the two-hour marathon ahead. They opened with an aerobic “Street Fighting Man” — which found Jagger running the length of the catwalk — and his voice was just as fit, from the soaring falsettos on “Miss You” and the yearning on “Angie” to the triumphant, crowd-powered refrains on “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter.”

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This was their 38th show in Chicago, Jagger said, and after 57 years as a band, they are a touring juggernaut, complete with longstanding, classic crowd-pleasing standards. And while most who get to stadium-level shows run them like well-oiled machines and stick to tried-and-true setlists, even amid the Stones’ second-nature staples there is adventure to be found. It was the thrill of the band’s unexpected turns, the looseness, chemistry and onstage camaraderie that allowed for fun detours over the course of their 20-song set, such as during the extended jams of “Miss You” and the sinister “Midnight Rambler,” which was buoyed by Jagger’s resonant harp wails.

Richards and Wood’s colorful, rhythmic interplay were particular highlights during the rollicking “Sad Sad Sad,” one of the deeper cuts from the band on Friday, as well as on standouts that included the Richards-fronted “Before They Make Me Run” and “Tumbling Dice,” which featured an exhilarating solo from Wood. Watts loosened the reins a bit, adding some improvisational zing, and swung hard for a rousing “Honky Tonk Woman.” Afterward, Jagger scanned the audience and proclaimed, “It feels pretty good!” and the 60,000-strong crowd shouted its approval, the group’s contagious electricity and big stage production punctuated by fireworks and huge screens helping bring the sold-out, sing-along crowd closer to the action.

Though the Stones didn’t venture far from their core fare — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Start Me Up,” “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” among them — outside of the aforementioned “newer” track “Sad Sad Sad” (from 1989’s “Steel Wheels”) they also rolled out 1994’s “You Got Me Rocking.” While there wasn’t too much by way of surprise from the set list — and no surprise guests —  it was a bit surprising that no material was featured from their latest album, 2016’s “Blue & Lonesome.” The covers LP nods to their blues roots and is steeped in the band’s early ties to Chicago back when they recorded at Chess Records, and their recent European run did feature a couple songs from it.

Still, there was little to complain about, except perhaps the inclusion of “Brown Sugar,” a decades-old fan favorite that was rousingly delivered, despite lyrics that in the current era are more problematic than ever.

Yet the crowd didn’t seem to mind as the Stones closed with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and then together to take a winning bow — their most closely watched and heavily scrutinized concert in years behind them.

The band returns to Soldier Field on Tuesday before continuing across the continent through Aug. 31st.