The Rolling Stones: Still Outlaws (1978)
The Rolling Stones tour of the United States was originally due to consist of a long string of stadium and large arena gigs. All these dates were announced and everything seemed to be going according to plan. That tour would have been a typical enough rock superstar tour, rolling these gate receipts right in. Then came the monkey wrench. Stones sources began making veiled allusions and hopeful noises about a possible club date or two, to break up the megagig monotony. Not long after, most of the stadium and arena dates were cancelled out of hand. Suddenly it was to be a six date mini-tour. No explanation was proffered. A week or so before the first of the six scheduled shows, a new message came down. Now the Stones were to structure a tour around those six showspadring their schedule with a bunch of theater bookings (and the hint of club shows still in the air).
So it stands today. The Stones have already played two theaters and one arena, and will do a stadium tonight. They were to play Boston’s Orpheum Theater this coming Monday, but the city fathers denied a permit of fear of a riot. One show already has gone down the tubes. There was to be a show here at the Palladium this Sunday (tomorrow), but the promoter now fervently denies the booking. Word is still out that New York will host the Rolling Stones tomorrow, but if anyone knows anything about the location or ticket availability, he’s keeping it really quiet. A shroud of secrecy is fast descending on this whole weird trip. [The concert finally did materialize the following Tuesday at the Palladium]
Three nights ago I saw the Rolling Stones play at the Capitol (the first time I’ve seen them since their last night at Madison Square Garden in 1972). My ticket stub is rainbow colored, and variously marked “specimen,” “not for sale,” “void” and “test ticket.” All this camouflage was I presume, meant to discourage anybody who saw the ticket from believing the show might actually happen; it was one slight measure to help keep the thousands who had no hope of getting into the show away from the streets of Passaic.
The Capitol Theater holds about 2,000 people. The highest the show could have grossed at $10.50 per ticket (assuming everybody paid) was $30,000 or so. Hardly much of a moneymaker for the Stones or John Scher. When last they played New York, the Stones did five nights at Madison Square garden. with total ticket sales in the range of 100,000. Gross potential on that was about a million bucks.
So why did the Rolling Stones cancel a slew of huge shows for a bunch of surprise attacks on theaters? Surely not for the money.
Something Mick Jagger said onstage at the Capitol holds the key. Commenting on returning to the east coast to perform after a protracted absence, he said: “It’s nice to be here instead of the usual barns. I guess we’ll have to play a few barns, though.”
I remember one of those barns quite well: Madison Square Garden. In 1972, though I had an excellent orchestra seat, I never got to sit. I had to stand on the damn chair for two solid hours. Nobody in the place would sit down for as much as ten seconds, even during as quite a number as “Sweet Virginia.” My memory of the evening is one of sweaty flashes of the stage through waving arms and bobbing heads.
At the Capitol, by contrast, while everyone was up for all the familiar material, they were up on the floor rather than up on the chairs, and they all sat down for the eight new songs. Much better. From the viewpoint of one lucky enough to have been inside rather than outside, small halls are much nicer.Comfort aside, the view and sound is much superior.
The Stones were also able to dispense with the multitude of props and gimmicks they had to use on their last tour to reach the most distant spectators. No star shaped stages; no ten foot rubber pricks; no distractions. Just basic rock and roll; and the show was that much better for it.
To close this line of speculation, I must point out that the Stones regularly sell two million copies of each new album, and a hell of a lot of singles. They hardly need stadium receipts. And concert halls are much, much classier: if the chance exists that your band may go out of action for the duration of a long jail sentence, why shouldn’t it go out in style?
I got to see the show, of course. I know I’d feel rather differently about the matter had I been among those shut out. With confusion increasing over upcoming shows, I’m assuming I’ve seen my last Rolling Stones concert. To possibly prove myself wrong, I stopped by the main post office in Manhattan last night with a handful of postcards for two radio stations which are running a ticket lottery for some nebulously promised future gig.
Back to the show itself: the Rolling Stones at the Capitol Theater, June 14, 1978. This was not your typical rock and roll crowd: three thousand people were there, largely running to friends and employees of John Scher, friends of employees, and an undetermined number of those like myself, thanking our lucky stars to be inside, rather than with the 1,500 forsaken souls out walking the streets. Outside, I understand, things were mellow. No riots. The only hitch was in a late start caused by delays in getting the largely upper crust audience through the doors.
Etta James, a well respected old blues shouter, opened the show. The woman sure can wail, but her band left much to be desired, matching “WB” jackets and all. The lady’s also a writer of some note: her set’s highlight was her own rendition of her well covered composition, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Though she was quite well and warmly received, she seemed a bit ill at ease. She interrupted herself often to remark that the Rolling Stones would indeed be out soon.
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