Keith Richards Sets The Tone

The Vancouver Province

November 1, 1989


By TOM HARRISON – Music Critic

Keith Richards moves and The Rolling Stones move with him.

He claps his left leg on the ground in time like Mr. Ed counting off and Charlie Watts rolls into the beat.

Everything else, the recognition from the 50,000 people who sold out B.C. Place last night, the hysteria which has been building for the past few months, simply combusts as The Rolling Stones begin their long-awaited Vancouver appearance with Start Me Up.

It’s no secret that the concert has been taken away from The Rolling Stones and transformed into a media event (as is the rule with anything associated with The Stones). But as soon as the band gets into full gear it’s evident that The Rolling Stones are here to take it back.

Keith Richards, for one, has been having a great time. Onstage he is laughing and bounding around, satisfied that his band finally is living out one of his hopes-that it can take rock and roll into its middle age with its spirit and battered integrity intact.

More than anyone else riding the Steel Wheels juggernaut, Richards has a mission and it is Richards who sets the tone of the concert.

It is rewarding to watch the bedevilled guitarist because, for so many Stones fans, if Jagger symbolizes The Rolling Stones and is their business head, Richards is the heart. He pumps the lifeblood of The Stones’ music through that slapping foot and bobbing and weaving body.

He is a physical musician. What he is thinking and feeling comes through him and he moves compulsively, propulsively, free of the clinches and posturing of most other guitarists. It’s why catching a grin from Richards as he moves along the rampart during Sympathy for the Devil, or watching the taut, attentive interaction between him and the other Stones during a dramatic reading of Midnight Rambler says more about the band than the 10-metre inflatable dolls that appear at either side of the massive stage during Honky Tonk Woman, or the gigantic set, which is there as elaborate window-dressing to suggest spectacle but serves little other purpose.

This is a thoughtfully put together set of songs that ties the past (Little Red Rooster, Ruby Tuesday, Satisfaction) to the present Stones (a great Undercover, Mixed Emotions which had a heightened groove quotient courtesy of the Uptown Horns) without nostalgia.

Yet this is a show with a sly humor, a savvy critical self-assessment and a discernible sense of purpose and relevance-as is evident during the "message" video accompanying Rock And A Hard Place and Undercover.

There also is a sense of harmony and balance within the group, as Mick Jagger struts his stuff and plays the rooster but Ron Wood gets his licks in and is the fox in the henhouse. Between the reliability of Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman and the additional flash of keyboards and support vocalists, between the tension and friendship of Jagger and Richards exists a living idea that isn’t rooted in time or dictated to by the selfishness and fickleness of youth.

It is an idea that has created a body of work, a modern lore and, well, a way of life, unmatched by any other rock and roll band. Something that, until this tour, The Rolling Stones themselves seemed afraid or unable to confront.

Living Colour, which opens, is in the strange position of being on the biggest tour of the year but practically invisible otherwise. The band makes a heavy, exciting, versatile rock and roll, but is swallowed up by the cruel acoustics of B.C. Place.