Music Blu-ray and CD Review: The Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels Live - Atlantic City, NJ 1989

High energy rock show, featuring several special guests, from Bill Wyman's final Stones tour.

By , Contributor
Every time Eagle Rock issues a long-vaulted Rolling Stones concert, the question comes up: do we need yet another one? Then invariably, upon watching the concert, the answer crystalizes: yes. One-thousand times yes. Steel Wheels Live captures a scintillating late-December show at Atlantic City's Convention Center in 1989, well into the band's gargantuan comeback tour. At the time, some old-school critics felt the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band (then, now, and forever) had worn out their welcome. Mostly in their late-40s (the horror), with bassist Bill Wyman—dutifully trudging through what would prove to be his swan song with the band—the senior member at 53, some were quick to brand the Stones "too old" to rock. 

Nonsense, of course, as we're lucky to still have the band doing their thing (maybe in concert again, one day, should concerts ever become a thing again). So perhaps the Stones of the late-'60s, counterculture leaders, etc., had long since evolved into seasoned pros. But certainly not hacks, nor embarrassments. They weren't really attempting to keep up with the ever-changing musical landscape (at least not too much, thankfully). Looking back, 30 years later, it's striking how young, vital, and energized the band looks. "Steel Wheelchairs," as some snarkier critics carped? I think not. 

Steel Wheels, the album, has aged remarkably well. It could even quite credibly be labelled a minor classic. That's part of the fun about these "vault" concerts: the Stones rock through a number of songs on whatever album they were promoting at the time, mostly tunes never (or seldom) revisited again. And in this case, they somehow missed the popular "Almost Hear You Sigh" (on the eve of its release as a single). 

We do get the deserved hits "Mixed Emotions" and "Rock and Hard Place," as well as deeper cuts like "Sad Sad Sad" (an unheralded gem), "Terrifying," and the Keith Richards-led "Can't Be Seen" (a solid track,though a bit disjointed-sounding in this particular performance, for some reason). There are also a couple back-to-back then-recent hits early in the show: "Undercover of the Night" and "Harlem Shuffle" (great backing vocals and horns, though The Uptown Horns look a bit cheesy/schticky Along with early faves like "Paint It Black" and "Ruby Tuesday" and the expected evergreens, it adds up to a perfect summation of the band's legacy up to that point. 
And then there's the guest stars. Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin (the former basking in the spotlight, the latter looking either bored or nervous—can't tell which) join for what Mick Jagger refers to as the live debut of "Salt of the Earth." Eric Clapton is on fire during a slow-burn take on "Little Red Rooster." Clapton, beaming with joy, remains onstage as John Lee Hooker comes out for "Boogie Chillen." Hopefully the capacity crowd was able to fully appreciate these indelible moments. If not, they're well-preserved here. The band, even the typically sullen-faced Wyman, obviously revels in the presence of Hooker. 
Reliable touring sidemen fulfill their roles more than satisfactorily. The late, great Bobby Keys blows the hell out of his sax as usual, while Chuck Leavell delivers bluesy licks on keys. Of the backing vocalists, of particular note is the mega-talented Lisa Fischer. Steel Wheels was the first of many tours she accompanied the Stones on. She gets a highlight moment on "Gimme Shelter."

Eagle Rock has issued Steel Wheels Live in a variety of formats (including vinyl and an expanded deluxe set). The Blu-ray offers non-HD video that was fine for its time but hopelessly dated today—standard definition is always going to be standard definition. But the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo audio options are the reason to snag this on Blu-ray. Get the three-disc Blu-ray/CD combo pack. The two audio CDs contain the entire concert and are a perfect supplement to the Blu-ray disc. If you're like me, watching a full concert (and this one clocks in at two hours and 37 minutes) is a rather uncommon occurrence compared to listening to a concert. Eagle Rock provides a great value and service to fans by including the audio discs.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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