This article originally appeared in the July 25, 1972 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
If the Chicago convention of 1968 represented, if not the death, the bludgeoning of the New Politics, and the concert at Altamont in the winter of 1969 a kind of hippie Armageddon, Miami Beach and the Stones ’72 tour represent to some extent their vindication. The world may not have become more receptive or benign sine then, but there is no doubt that the various victims a couple of years ago have become better organized. That also, of course, means that they have become a little bit more like the things they once defied. In both cases, too much is at stake for things not to be done with precision; with McGovern, the question, however, is whether political goals will be affected by such pragmatism; with the Stones, one wonders about the music.
This impression of the outcasts and the regulars being mutually drawn to some left-of-center middle is provoked by the sheer surface similarity of the two “campaigns.” The Stones travel in private planes with a huge entourage and tons of equipment, they have their advance men and their p.r. men, and a national network of lawyers, promoters, etc. to ensure that nothing goes wrong. The media is saturated with their pictures. (It’s astonishing to think that Mick Jagger has been longer in the public eye than George McGovern.) There was even a bit of business which got the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Rhode Island involved. To draw another analogy, the Stones took over the 26th floor of the Sheraton Boston the way Howard Hughes a couple of years ago took over the Ritz Carlton’s fifth. If you had the temerity to push the elevator’s 26th button, you were greeted a moment later by several burly, florid security men who vehemently shook their heads and barred your entry into the hall. You could only plunge back to the lobby and there observe the groupies’ lonely vigil.
The Stones have been famous for second-billing acts which deserved the attention only a Stones tour could bring them and yet threatened to wipe the Stones off the stage. The Stones being highly conscious of the ethnic origins of their music, and indebted to them, these artists have tended to be black. In ’69 it was B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner. This year it was Stevie Wonder, and in areas of the South, various obscure gospel singers. (Jagger admitted he has recently been listening mainly to gospel and Miles Davis.) Wonder is one of the most talented and open to growth of all the contemporary musicians who were launched in soul. Stories of Stevie and the Stones jamming to “Satisfaction” for forty minutes in Detroit preceded them. But Wonder’s performance was a disappointment. Stevie had to contend with the Garden’s wretched acoustics, and that was part of it, and the sheer size of the place swallows most performers, but Stevie’s music also struck me as soul music struggling no longer to be itself, and not yet become something else. Stevie’s work with the synthesizer at times seemed to be sound for its own sake (using it as an elaborate kazoo for one thing), yet paradoxically with fairly straightforward soul arrangements. He is a warm, exquisite singer, but some of the stage business—Stevie taking over on drums—was amateurish and unnecessary. What the stage really needed was a visual focal point—Stevie’s blindness compels him to be stationary—and that was supplied by a diminutive 13 year-old named, I think, Bobby Love. He danced like a junior James Brown, though he hardly sang like one, and brought to the stage the activity that was needed. Stevie then did a nice version of “Signed, Sealed Delivered” and left us with his synthesizer, unattended, wailing like a police siren.