When I was a 16-year old Run-DMC and GN’F’nR-listening nascent ROCKthusiast, I remembered friends of my dad being so excited over The Rolling Stones’ impending Steel Wheels tour.
“You don’t understand,” they tried to tell this snarky teen who was all too ready to dismiss their favourite tongue-and-lips band as over the hill. “The Stones haven’t played Toronto in forever, and are putting on something bigger than Springsteen, Madonna and the Jacksons Victory tour combined!”
Those baby boomers were bang on, of course. The last proper appearance by The Stones in Hogtown was June 17th and 18th, 1975 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Yes, the 14 years in between did feature the infamous El Mocambo gigs opening for April Wine as “The Cockroaches” and recorded as part of 1977’s Love You Live album. Keith Richard sans “s” as he was officially known then got into some legal trouble, with a reduced heroin charge of having him and his mates be charitable towards the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in the form of two 1979 benefit concerts at Oshawa’s Civic Auditorium.
The Stones definitely made up for any lost revenue in 1989 by playing four massive shows that year, double dips at the since torn-down Exhibition Stadium on the CNE grounds, as well as the just-built SkyDome in December with the newfangled retractable roof obviously closed. Their blueprint was essentially replicated for the even greedier (I mean grander-scale) Voodoo Lounge tour in 1994 while fax machines were all the rage, with one variance being the addition of a kick-off club date. The no longer with us RPM Club, Horseshoe Tavern (1997), Palais Royale Ballroom (2002) and Phoenix Concert Theatre (2005) have all hosted “secret affairs” from The Rolling Stones, performing shorter-than-usual sets that averaged 14 songs as opposed to the 22 Hot Rocks they’ve consistently done since the megaevent era began. Torontonians have heard 122 individual songs including “Before They Make Me Run” on six occasions, written by Keith Richards directly in response to his drug woes experienced here. What’s the one song they’ve played all 19 times in T.O.wn since Steel Wheels, you may ask? That would be “Brown Sugar”, followed by “Honky Tonk Women” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (which also claims the honour of closing half of the sets when its distinctive jittery riff was strummed).
According to my research, The Stones have had thirty shows as a band in Toronto, with the earliest look any Canadian would have got of these yobs out of England being April 25th 1965 at Maple Leaf Gardens (back when the local hockey team actually won Stanley Cups). The Carlton Street Cashbox is tenuously holding on to the informal record of presenting The Rolling Stones the most times in Toronto at seven; if Mick, Keith, Charlie and company would have booked their only Canadian stop of 2019 for Rogers Centre as originally rumoured, it would have tied MLG. I’m sure there are a few diehards who have attended every single stadium-sized extravaganza, plus the four one-shot deals at Air Canada Centre, but any way you slice it that’s well over a half million people who have seen them live in Toronto alone. Or almost as many who purport to have been at Downsview Park in 2003 for SARSfest. One thing I’ve learned about The Stones is to never, ever say this may be “the last time”, as it really is futile to pigeonhole them into any kind of time frame context. I mean, they celebrated their “50 and Counting” anniversary when they swung through Toronto in 2013. That was already a lifetime ago for Pete’s sake, and Steel Wheels is now thirty freaking years old! I now have a teenaged son of my own who appreciates the classics like his old man discreetly did. Maybe if the dad who never took me isn’t busy on June 29th and there are still tickets left, we can have three generations of music fans make the trek up to Oro-Medonte for this #CanadaRocks shindig.