The ancient Greeks had the Dionysian mysteries, when they would abandon propriety, dance wildly in a trance-like state and revel in various sorts of intoxicated excess. For boomers, that sounds eerily similar to Rolling Stones concerts of our youth. A 1972 Associated Press account of a Stones show at Philadelphia’s Spectrum arena – “a festival of heat, hysteria, perfume, sweat, marijuana smoke and deafening music inside” – merely grazes the surface of the hedonistic mass ritual.
Related: The Stones’ 50 Years in Pictures
Flashbacks to favorite Stones-induced moments have begun again, with the coming of the “world’s greatest rock and roll band’s” 50 and Counting Tour. The shows commemorate the band’s 50th anniversary. Or perhaps the 51st, depending whether you start at the first gig by Mick Jagger, and guitarists Keith Richards and the late Brian Jones in London in July 1962, or wait until former bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts joined in February 1963.
Join the discussion: If you could have front-row seats to any concert, who would it be?
Either way, this is a good time to count off some of the outrageous moments of the Stones’ classic tours:
- 1964. The Beatles are besieged by screaming teenage girls wherever they perform, but Stones fans are riotous – literally. One of the edgier moments comes in July at a show in Blackpool, England, where, according to a UPI account, Richards suddenly runs toward a young man on the edge of the stage, swinging his guitar like a club and threatening to “bash someone” he claims has been spitting at him. The crowd of 7,000 angry teenagers surges on stage, demolishing $5,600 worth of amplifiers and drums and tearing apart the auditorium. “I suppose [Richards] shouldn’t have done it,” Jagger later deadpans. A different ambiance greets the band across the Atlantic at their first-ever U.S. concert, in San Bernadino, Calif.; the opening act is soft-pop crooner Bobby Goldsboro – best known for his morbidly maudlin ballad “Honey.” Police in white motorcycle helmets keep the peace, according to biographer Stanley Booth. Here are the Stones that summer on the Mike Douglas Show:
- 1966. The Stones’ growing reputation as hard-partying reprobates with dangerously frenzied fans leads 14 different New York City hotels to turn them away, so, according to Booth, they find shelter on a yacht in the 79th Street Boat Basin. The lads stay out of real trouble until their show at Syracuse’s War Memorial Auditorium in July. Just before going onstage, Jones spots a large American flag and apparently tries to steal it as a souvenir. When he gets in a struggle with an auditorium employee, the flag is dragged across the floor. The police show up and threaten to arrest Jones, but the band persuades them it was an accident. Here’s a complete audio recording that shows the Stones at the height of youthful charisma several weeks later in Honolulu.
- 1969. Drug prosecutions in England have kept the Stones from touring for several years, so by now their fan base in the United States has morphed from screaming teenage girls to college-age hipsters immersed in political and social turmoil. Brian Jones, who will die during the summer in a swimming pool mishap, is gone from the band. The tour’s vibes, not surprisingly, are tense and edgy. The culmination comes in December during a free concert for 300,000 at Altamont Speedway in California. Graphically documented in the film “Gimme Shelter,” members of the Hells Angels, hired as concert security, beat and stab a man to death in front of the stage as Jagger sings “Under My Thumb.” Here’s a live performance of “Street Fighting Man” from that tour.
- 1972. The STP (Stones Touring Party) is the apex of debauchery for the band itself, which is followed by a coterie of celebrities that includes Truman Capote and Princess Lee Radziwill. (Richards later recounts his experience with an acrobatic groupie who, literally, swings naked from a hotel chandelier.) The Stones’ characteristic chaos emerges in the band’s final appearance of the tour, at Madison Square Garden. It’s also Jagger’s 29th birthday, and he’s promised a special surprise for the 20,000 fans who show up. At the concert’s end, a huge chocolate cake and an assortment of pies appear. Jagger blows out the candles; rose petals, confetti and balloons fall; then, according to a UPI account, the Stones and members of the audience engage in a pie-throwing fight. Here’s a video clip of the Stones performing during the tour.
- 1975. The Stones’ U.S. tour is all about spectacle, and their elaborate lotus-shaped stage, with mechanized petals that open and close during “Honky Tonk Woman,” transforms hockey arenas into an inebriated fantasy of an ancient religious temple. A confetti-puffing dragon, a giant inflatable penis (which, to the band’s amusement, frequently suffers erectile dysfunction) and a trapeze from which Jagger dangles precariously add to the ambiance. But the tour’s most outrageous moment comes offstage, when police in a small town in Arkansas stop a car Richards is driving after he, guitarist Ronnie Wood and their entourage provoke a disturbance in a local roadhouse. The police don’t discover a massive amount of cocaine, mescaline and other drugs concealed in the car’s door panels. Richards and his mates get away with paying a fine for reckless driving and giving the judge a souvenir – a knife Richards was carrying.
Andrew Perry, a rock critic for The Telegraph, a British newspaper, offers his own list of the top 10 performances by the Stones. We’d love to hear your memories of great Stones concerts that you attended (post them in the comments section below).
Photo (1975): Tony Morelli via Flickr/Wikipedia
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