Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 8, 2015)
September 24, 1989 offered an event my 22-year-old self never thought would occur: I saw the Rolling Stones live. In the years prior to that, the band essentially broke up, so many of us feared that the Stones’ 1981-82 world tour would be their last.
Obviously the last 26 years have demonstrated otherwise, as the Stones have multiple tours since their big 1989-90 return to the stage. Rather than die without seeing the band, I’ve attended more than 50 Stones shows from 1989 to date.
Though essentially the same tour, the Stones adopted two different names for their 1989-90 trek. The 1989 US leg and the winter 1990 Japanese shows came with the sobriquet “Steel Wheels” – based on the band’s then-current album – while the spring/summer 1990 European concerts boasted the title “Urban Jungle”. Both “Wheels” and “Jungle” offered pretty similar setlists, but they delivered different stage set-ups.
With a 2015 Blu-ray called Live At the Tokyo Dome 1990, we get a document from the end of the “Steel Wheels” dates. The band’s “Japanese tour” actually took place all at one venue, as the Stones played a whopping 10 shows at the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome.
From February 14, 1990, the Blu-ray presents the Stones’ opening night in Tokyo and delivers a 23-song set. From the recently-released Steel Wheels, the band plays “Sad Sad Sad”, “Rock and a Hard Place”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Can’t Be Seen” and “Almost Hear You Sigh”. (Steel Wheels’ “Continental Drift” acts as the intro to the concert, but this just plays a tape of the song, not a live performance.)
1986’s Dirty Work - along with 1983’s Undercover, one of two albums produced between tours – offers only one song, a cover of Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”. (The Stones often played 1983’s “Undercover of the Night” in 1989 but I guess it got the boot by 1990.)
1981’s Tattoo You - the album that headlined the band’s last tour in 1981-82 – brings us “Start Me Up”, and 1978’s Some Girls boasts “Miss You”. We get the title track from 1974’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, and 1972’s Exile on Main Street throws us “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy”.
1971’s Sticky Fingers features “Bitch” and “Brown Sugar”, while 1969’s Let It Bleed delivers “Midnight Rambler”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Gimme Shelter”. 1969 also provides the single “Honky Tonk Women”.
Back to 1968, we get the single “Jumping Jack Flash” as well as “Sympathy for the Devil” from Beggars Banquet. The concert represents 1967 with the single “Ruby Tuesday” and “2000 Light Years from Home” from Their Satanic Majesties Request. Finally, 1966 offers the single “Paint It Black”, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” comes from 1965’s Out Of Our Heads.
Back on stage after a roughly seven-week layoff after the final December 1989 shows in Atlantic City, Tokyo Dome shows the Stones in fine form. Perhaps rejuvenated after the break, they seem energetic and downright happy much of the time; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen drummer Charlie Watts smile as much as he does here.
Not that one should expect an especially chummy affair, especially in terms of the interaction – or lack thereof – between vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards. As I alluded earlier, the 1989-90 tour followed a virtual breakup that occurred mainly due to sparring/strained relations between Mick and Keith, and they seem to remain frosty toward each other here.
Though that’s largely the modern-day Mick/Keith dynamic. Like I noted, I’ve seen the Stones a bunch since 1989, and I can recall few signs of affection/fondness between Mick and Keith. I guess I’m glad they don’t fake friendship on stage, but it makes me sad that these long-time partners – and one-time pals – still seem like they can barely stand each other. Even when they stand near each other during “Miss You” in this Blu-ray’s concert, it feels like they don’t acknowledge each other.
The nature of the stadium stage makes much real interaction tough anyway. The “Steel Wheels Tour” boasted a stunning – and enormous – frame that meant it often seemed like Mick was in a different city than the others. That created a good visual presence, but it didn’t lend itself to much chumminess among the musicians.
Nonetheless, the Stones know how to command a stage – especially Jagger, of course. He more than holds his own as he offers the strong presence one expects. The rest play their roles just fine, even though they do get lost on the massive stage at times.
Musically, Tokyo Dome shows the Stones in reasonably good form. I think the band hit their “modern day” peak on later tours, but they still seem fine here – and better than I recalled, honestly.
That’s especially true for Jagger’s vocals. As I noted when I reviewed Rolling Stones At the Max - an IMAX film shot during the 1990 “Urban Jungle” shows – Jagger often had a tendency to “proclaim” lyrics rather than sing them. That was more dominant in earlier tours but still an issue at times in 1989-90.
While I won’t claim Tokyo Dome boasts Jagger’s best vocals, he does really sing most of the time. That comes as a pleasant surprise. Jagger’s vocals could be a liability on some earlier tours – or during the then-current tour - but they’re pretty good here.
The rest of the band sounds typically loose and occasionally sloppy. Unsurprisingly, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood suffer from the most mistakes. That was true before 1990 and it’s true now. Both are perfectly fine most of the time – God knows they’ve been worse – but expect more than a few clunker notes from the guitarists.
1989-90 represented the last tour original bassist Bill Wyman played with the band. He and drummer Charlie Watts always had a good connection, and they show that here. One won’t find their best work, but they support the music well.
As for the video presentation of the concert, we get a decidedly meat and potatoes sensibility. That’s good because the director never resorts to annoying editing choices or gimmicks, but it’s bad because the show lacks much energy in terms of visuals. We find a decent sense of the performance but not one likely to really capture the spirit of the event.
Any complaints aside, I do like Tokyo Dome. After 25 years, I’m pleased to finally have a video that presents an entire 1989-90 concert, and Tokyo Dome finds the Stones on a good night. I’m happy to have this one in my collection.