One Sunday afternoon in Fall of 1989 I was walking around Greenwich Village and I popped into Bleecker Bob’s record store to see if my old friend Nate Cimmino was working that day. He wasn’t and so I used a pay phone (remember them?) to call him to see if he wanted to have lunch and go record shopping. As the phone was ringing, I saw him walk briskly past me and make for the phone right beside the one I was using.
“Hey! I was just calling you!” I said.
“And oddly enough, I was just about to call you,” he replied. “Guess where you’re going?”
“To see the Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium.”
“Right now. Let’s get on the subway and go. We’ll get there in time for the opening act if we leave right away.”
Via Stufish Entertainment Architects
Although I was bummed that I didn’t have any pot on me—yes, I still recall this tiny detail a quarter of a century later—we jumped on the subway and made our way out to Shea Stadium in Queens—then home of the NY Mets—to see “the world’s greatest rock and roll band.” This was the “Steel Wheels” tour, a trek that some wags in the media had termed “Steel Wheelchairs.” The band first started getting called “The Strolling Bones” around then, too. Ah, if they only knew then what we now know… But this was when the Stones were really only just starting to get shit about getting too old to rock and roll. Recall that at one point Mick Jagger was saying in interviews that he couldn’t picture himself still singing “Satisfaction” onstage over the age of 30. In 1989 he was 46 and still singing it, but as the Stones hadn’t toured since 1982—Mick and Keith had been feuding for seven years at this point—they got a pass because everyone wondered, as the rumor mill had it, if this would be the final Rolling Stones tour.
That seems farcical now of course, but I will contend that this was the final tour before the Rolling Stones simply became a Rolling Stones cover band. It was the final tour that bassist Bill Wyman made with the group. It was also the last time they’d tour with both a hit album and a hit single. The Steel Wheels album went to #2 on the Billboard chart and the single “Mixed Emotions” was a top five hit. The video played constantly on MTV and radio loved the song, but again it was this implied threat that “this could be the last time” that made people flock to these shows the way they did, I think.
Via Stufish Entertainment Architects
“Steel Wheels” was one of the most successful tours of all time. And the biggest, carted around on 80 trucks. It was the very first stadium rock show I’d ever seen and it did not disappoint. What a spectacle. The Stones have long had a (well-deserved) reputation for being an extremely sloppy live band, but they were a well-rehearsed music machine—with many quality side musicians augmenting the band—on the “Steel Wheels” tour. The stage was huge. The light show and pyrotechnics were impressive and they were simply damned good.
So with my fond memory of the show, I was curious to see the latest installment of the Stones archival “From the Vaults” series, Live at the Tokyo Dome 1990. The band’s first ever dates in Japan saw the end of the “Steel Wheels” tour in 1990 with ten shows, one of them taped for television broadcast. I wanted to see if it meshed with my own recollection of the show. It did! The quality of this new release is excellent and although the Blu-ray disc’s content is in standard (nicely uprezed) video definition, the Tokyo Dome show is absolutely superb. My favorite Stones on film will always be Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, then Gimme Shelter, but lemme tell ya, the sequence of songs that begins with “Paint It Black” followed by “2000 Light Years From Home” (this was the only tour this song was ever performed on a nightly basis, and I thought it the absolute highlight of the set) “Sympathy For The Devil” and then “Gimme Shelter” is pretty impressive here. Dramatic, with a wow factor the Stones haven’t really mustered since.
This show has been bootlegged a lot over the years but the new release by Eagle Rock, with its 5.1 HD DTS Master Audio soundtrack mixed by Bob Clearmountain is definitely worth the upgrade. It sounds simply fantastic. In fact it’s much better than I thought it would be, to be honest. On every level. If you’re a Stones fan, especially if you saw this tour, this DVD is a must.
Buy Live at the Tokyo Dome 1990 on Amazon.
Here’s a clip from Live at Tokyo Dome 1990 for what was then the Stones big hit single, “Mixed Emotions”: