DVD Review: The Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels Live

The Rolling Stones deliver a killer concert from 1989 with some very special guests.
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In 1989, The Rolling Stones took to the road for their first tour since their widely successful Still Life tour of 1981-82. While the band had released two studio albums in the interim -- 1983's Undercover and 1986's Dirty Work-- they did not tour for either, instead focusing on solo works from singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards. These solo projects led to squabbling between the so-called Glimmer Twins and left the future of The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band up in the air, so when the group announced not only a new album in Steel Wheels, but also that they were going to tour for it, it was big news indeed. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it would also be original bassist Bill Wyman's final outing with the group.

The tour, which featured an elaborate stage setup as well as supporting musicians and backup singers, was criticized a bit for being something of a "Rolling Stones Review," but the truth is, the band had been taking horn sections and backing members on the road for some time. For such a spectacle, the band decided upon a pay per view event and one of their December 1989 Atlantic City shows was chosen for the occasion.

The show was notable not only for the band's strong performance, but also for its guest stars. Joining the Stones on stage were Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin from Guns N' Roses (A band that opened four shows for the Stones in Los Angeles), Eric Clapton, and John Lee Hooker. The show opens with an energetic one-two punch of "Start Me Up" and "Bitch." Jagger commands the stage and it is clear that the band had not lost a step despite not touring together for some time.

An up-tempo "Sad Sad Sad," one of several new songs from Steel Wheels, follows, showing that the band was just as confident in their strong new material as they were in their legendary back catalog. The group delivers an explosive "Undercover Of The Night" followed by a slinky "Harlem Shuffle," both songs they never got to play when they were new singles. The former finds Jagger giving a commanding performance as if he had something to prove while the latter finds him dueting with his backup singers.

After a potent "Miss You," the group follows similar stylistic ground with "Terrifying," another strong, dance-oriented track from Steel Wheels. Putting it after one of the jewels of the band's catalog helped it to receive an excellent reception from the audience and guitarist Ron Wood delivers some stinging, bluesy leads. A strong "Ruby Tuesday" follows with Richards singing backup vocals. While the backing singers may have technically "better" voices, when Mick and Keith sing together, it sounds like the Stones and this is no different.

Rose and Stradlin join the band for the first of the guest sports of the evening and it is memorable -- the first-ever live performance of "Salt Of The Earth." Richards opens the song as on the album, followed by Jagger and then Rose, who looks elated to be singing with some of his heroes. Giant inflatables join the band onstage for a spirited, well-received "Honky Tonk Women," before the band launches into a sizzling "Midnight Rambler" that sees the group firing on all cylinders. Jagger delivers some strong harmonica playing while the group locks into a tight groove musically.

Eric Clapton joins the band for a terrific blues romp on "Little Red Rooster." Richards and Wood look ecstatic to trade licks with the guitar great and the trio does not disappoint. Clapton stays on stage as blues legend John Lee Hooker joins the group for a strong "Boogie Chillen." The Stones came from the blues and their love of the music is obvious in this performance.

Richards takes his solo spot next, going for a soulful "Can't Be Seen" and a blistering "Happy," the latter showcasing some killer slide playing from Wood. A pair of 1960s gems follows in "Paint It Black" and the psychedelic gem "2000 Light Years From Home," the latter debuting on the tour despite being recorded in 1967.

A trio of classic rock staples close the show in "Brown Sugar," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and "Jumping Jack Flash." As explosive as when they were first released, the group reminds the capacity crowd that when they want to, no one really rocks harder than the Rolling Stones.

Being that the show was recorded in 1989, the video is not in HD, but it has been restored and looks great. The audio is full and powerful, befitting the music. This review is based on a streaming version, but there are CDs available in the various configurations with a new mix from Bob Clearmountain.

The 1989 Steel Wheels tour revived the Stones' career. They were once again a viable touring act and have been ever since, continuing to release new albums -- both studio and live -- and performing to countless fans. The group seemingly decided that they are better together than apart and the fans are all the better off for it.