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26 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Play Small Club to Warm Up for Steel Wheels Tour

Keystone, Getty Images

It was the surprise event that began a regular tradition. On Aug. 12, 1989, the Rolling Stones semi-officially kicked off their worldwide Steel Wheels tour with an unannounced club show.

The biggest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet gathered at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Ct., for their first performance together in more than seven years. In the interim, the band had come dangerously close to breaking upMick Jagger and Keith Richards had exchanged a public war of words stemming from Jagger’s two solo albums She’s the Boss (from 1985) and Primitive Cool (1987). A year later, Richards had put together his own record with the X-pensive Winos, Talk Is Cheap, which featured the song “You Don’t Move Me,” believed to be about Jagger.

But past grievances and outside ambitions were put aside by 1989 as the Stones reconvened to create a new record. The result was the platinum-selling comeback, Steel Wheels, with a massive world tour booked to coincide with its release.

Before that could happen, the band were keen to just get back on stage once again in a low pressure setting to see how they could do and thus, there they were at a 700-person capacity club in New Haven. As a smokescreen, Toad’s Place had booked local band Sons of Bob, who were told that the gig was a birthday party for an influential promoter. However, rumors spread that the Stones might be playing afterwards and tickets, which were priced at just $3.01, sold out quickly.

The set list that night was pretty lean, with the band only performing 11 songs over 50 minutes. They opened with the Tattoo You classic “Start Me Up” and spent the rest of the show playing a wealth of older hits. Only two Steel Wheels songs were thrown into the set: the album opener “Sad Sad Sad” and the lead single “Mixed Emotions.”

The experience proved so rewarding that the band has played a surprise secret club date prior to every single one of their major tours to follow in the years to come.

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