The presence and power of the Rolling Stones is undeniable, regardless of what era of their illustrious career is placed under the microscope by means of archival releases or feature-length documentaries. But, in many ways, the Rolling Stones literally owned the nineties. Their Bridges to Babylon tour—spanning a year in length, featuring 97 shows across four continents—was the second highest-grossing tour of that decade, which is second only to their own Voodoo Lounge tour of 1994-1995; It’s a remarkable achievement, especially in a decade when major acts such as U2, the Eagles, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, and Madonna all staged major productions of their own. But, as remarkable as those artists may be, this isthe Rolling Stones we’re talking about, and anything short of greatness would be unprecedented. Bridges to Bremen (Eagle Rock Entertainment), is the latest Stones archival release—a live LP and DVD/Blu-ray combo set—documenting their special calling as entertainers on a rousing September evening in 1998 at Weserstadion, the stadium that sits on the north bank of the Weser River in the northern city of Bremen, Germany.
From the opening notes of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the larger-than-life Stones are a thunderbolt of energy—a level they maintain one-hundred percent throughout the duration of the two-and-half-hour performance presented here. Mick Jagger skips and shakes his way from side to side, working every angle of the stage as the consummate showman, seemingly determined to reach out and grab every member of the forty thousand-plus audience. Keith Richards, donning sunglasses and a long leopard-print coat, strums his axe with such elegant cool that it would seem as if he were truly rock ‘n’ roll personified; he may not have invented it, but he sure as hell wears it better than anyone else in the business.
Cuts from the Bridges to Babylon album, such as the rip-roaring “Flip the Switch” and the groove-laden hit single “Anybody Seen My Baby?”, feature early in the show. Drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones stalwart rhythm man, locks in hard with bassist Darryl Jones on the latter, as backing vocalists Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer lift Jagger through the jazzier refrains of the chorus. The mid-set gem is “Miss You,” which is given a 16-minute jam treatment, featuring a playful cabaret routine worked out between Jagger and Fischer, and an extended solo from then-Stones sax man, the late Bobby Keys.
The Stones weren’t the first group to utilize idea of a “B” stage, but they certainly perfected it as a component of the overall presentation. Fast-forward 20 years from this performance, and “B” stages are virtually commonplace of every stadium and arena tour. For the Bridges to Babylon tour, a 150-ft long telescoping cantilever bridge extended from the main stage to a “B” stage in the center of the field.
In Bridges to Bremen, the Stones trek across the bridge like gladiators as a raucous version of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” counts off as the post-interlude number. The version here is sweaty and dirty. It is showing off the Chuck Berry chops he learned so long ago, a big, black Gibson is strapped across Richards chest, and he blisters like the sun here on this raved-up rendition. Speaking of chops, Ronnie Wood gets pure Delta with his slide work on “You Got Me Rockin’,” which follows up next.
Throughout the entire performance, watching Jagger’s invincibility is awe-inspiring. His momentum is endless, and his commitment to the audience has wavered not an iota since his early days as a singer. He speaks to the crowd in German. He salutes the surrounding European nations watching the performance being simulcast on television. He tells them they’re wonderful, and the audience responds in kind.
There is magic in archival releases such as these, because the audience has not only has the virtue of hindsight: this is, again, the Rolling Stones, a band that fans observe through the lucky prism of yesterday, today, and tomorrow—and it is heartening to see that the commitment to the show— to the the crowd—never wavers with the Rolling Stones. As this snapshot of the past so emphatically reminds us of this.
The Rolling Stones: Bridges to Brennan is available from Eagle Rock Entertainment as a single Blu-ray or DVD, a Blu-ray or DVD plus 2 CD set, as well as a 3LP pressing. For more information, please visit eagle-rock.com/stones-bridges.