During the 80s, the Rolling Stones spent much of their time on the sidelines. While it is true that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s friction with each other kept increasing, the band is still able to put albums on the shelves. However, many of these newer albums gained a lukewarm response. Yet the Rolling Stones on tour is a different story. By 1998, the band hadn’t played live on the stage for seven years.
This was one of their longest concert droughts, but this drought ended when they launched the Steel Wheels North American Tour. This was on August 31 in Philadelphia. For the sticklers, it can be considered that the drought officially ended in New Haven, Connecticut when they had their warm-up show a couple of weeks earlier.
The tour’s name was derived from their new album, which was dubbed “Steel Wheels”. The album was launched two days prior to the start of the tour. Earlier that year, Richard and Jagger patched things up and then continued to write and record songs that exemplify the feel of the “Classic Stones”. Meanwhile, Jagger at the time was being constantly pressed if the tour was the last tour they will have as “The Rolling Stones”, a question that becomes sillier and sillier as the years pass decades later.
Besides, the old band, Charlie Watts, Billy Wyman, Ron Wood, Richards and Jagger, answered with a 28-song marathon on opening date. The Rolling Stones started the show with a two-punch combo with their popular titles “Bitch and “Start Me Up”. The crowd was certainly pleased to know that Jagger is able to hold-up his end better than the equipment as a generator blew while the band was playing “Shattered”, their third song of the show. In mere minutes, the power returned and the band continued to rock the stage with “Steel Wheels” and “Sad, Sad, Sad”. However, the band decided to drop “Shattered” for superstitious reasons.
The Rolling Stones flooded the crowd’s senses with a plethora of rock tunes that spans every era of the band. From the blues covers, like the “Little Red Rooster” by Willie Dixons, to the band’s psychedelic experimentation like the title “2000 Light Years From Home”. Then their country rock in the likes of “Dead Flowers” and a few 80’s material like the “Undercover Of Night”.
Keith fronted the stage with his own to give Mick a break, with songs like “Happy” and “Before They Make Me Run”. When Jagger finally returned, he blew the crowd away with his wall-to-wall hits like “Satisfaction” and “Brown Sugar” to name a few.
This was the band’s first big tour since the year 1983 and the Rolling Stone’s first American show since 1982. The entire show did not hold back in terms of flare and spectacle. The Rolling Stones awed the crowd by playing in the midst of roaring flame tower and crackling fireworks, two elements that continued on future tours. The Rolling Stones also introduced giant inflatable barflies, which flanked the stage, arguably the most garish stage decoration in the entire rock history. The decoration introduced itself while the band was playing “Honky Tonk Woman”.
As the tour of gigantic proportions continued, the band only seems to gain more and more momentum. The band mentioned in the Rolling Stones Magazine that they’re keeping their fingers crossed, but they have been getting better every day of the tour. A lot of people consider that 1989 was a dream year for The Rolling Stones. It was from then that people predicted that the tour would increase its intensity to a worldwide tour by 1990. In fact, it did, but it was renamed to the “Urban Jungle” tour before the tour hit Europe. The band even continued “Rolling in Australia”.
As time flew by, the band then recorded their live album, entitled “Flashpont”. The band also performed a live pay-per-views special broadcast, which in turn wad edited by Fox for their primetime concert special. The band also completed an IMAX film, entitled “The Rolling Stones: Live at the Max”. This IMAX film was one of the first feature films that were completed using the IMAX camera.
In several ways, the band’s “Steel Wheels” tour is a milestone not only in the band’s history, but also for rock history. This tour was the first in which they introduce Bernard Fowler, a backing vocalist and Lisa Fischer; Both have appeared in all subsequent shows and tours. It also marked their first of many tours with Chuck Leavel, a musical director and keyboardist for the band. In rock history, the tour marked the use of first ever arena-sized blowouts that were not only continued with the band in future tours, but also copied by other performing rock bands.
Bill Wyman, a full-time member, did not continue the tour however. According to him, he had had enough and decided to quit during the year 1989/90. Retrospectively speaking, the year 1989 was both an end and a new beginning of a Rolling Stone era.