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20 Years Ago: The Rolling Stones Kick Off ‘Voodoo Lounge’ Tour

It was the beginning of what would become the biggest and most financially successful rock and roll tour to date. On Aug. 1, 1994, the Rolling Stones opened their massive ‘Voodoo Lounge’ world tour.

The first seeds of what would come were planted in Dec. 1992, when, after spending nearly 30 years in the band, Bill Wyman, the Stone’s bedrock bass player officially announced that he was out. In a later interview, Wyman explained the circumstances of his departure saying, “Playing with the Stones there was always such a lot of pressure,” he said. “The next album or single always had to be the best, or at least sell more. When we got together to play it was a great moment. Working with Charlie [Watts] was fantastic, and we’re still really close. But when I toured with the Stones it would take a month to practice all these songs we’d been playing for 30 years.”

Almost immediately, speculation began that Wyman’s departure presaged the eventual demise of the group as a whole. It was a notion the band put to rest categorically nine months later when the Stones entered the studio to begin work on their latest album with new bassist Darryl Jones, whom they announced as his official replacement a few months before the July 1994 release of ‘Voodoo Lounge.’

Mick Jagger expounded about the thought that went into the tour in the book, ‘According to the Rolling Stones,’ “What the audiences want are a lot of lights and pizzazz with bangs and whistles,” he said. “On the ‘Voodoo Lounge Tour’ we had this huge lamp-post structure stuck in the middle of the stage. It was very good-looking, but by the time we got 25 minutes into the show, and then an hour, the lamp-post was still standing there doing nothing. We had to invent a whole feature with these Mexican inflatables…done in a way that made them look as though they were dolls in some strange kind of religious shrine.”

In his autobiography, ‘Life’ Keith Richards explained the necessity of size when it comes to Rolling Stones tours. “It wasn’t Mick any more than the rest of us who conceived these megatours: ‘Steel Wheels,’ ‘Voodoo Lounge,’ ‘Bridges to Babylon,’ ‘Forty Licks,’ ‘A Bigger Bang’…It was basically public demand that expanded them to that size. People say, why do you keep doing this? How much money do you need? Well, everyone likes making money, but we just wanted to do shows. And we’re working in an unknown medium.”

Even with a performance of that scale, at the end of the day, it’s still supposed to be a cohesive show with real thought behind it, which is something that matters a great deal to Jagger. “We always feel that the shows must make some sort of sense to us intellectually,” he continued. “We don’t care if nobody else ever gets the concept, but it has to work for us, so that should we have to explain the staging to a real serious critic – someone who might come up and say, ‘OK, what is this show really about? What the hell is the lamp-post doing there? Then we’ve got the answer ready.”

The tour officially kicked off, lamp-post, inflatables and all at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. After an opening set by Counting Crows, who were riding high on the success of their debut album, ‘August and Everything After,’ the Stones took the stage. They wasted no time in going right to the start of the story, opening with their first major British hit, a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away.’ But as the video above from MTV News, who was on the scene to cover the concert, shows, the band quickly hit a snag, with Keith Richards breaking a string and needing a replacement guitar.

The setlist shows exactly what you would expect from a Stones tour at the time: a good dose of their classic hits interspersed with key tracks from the new album, plus a few surprises. These came mostly in the middle, with one of their less-successful disco hits, ‘Hot Stuff,’ followed by a cover of the Temptations’ ‘I Can’t Get Next To You.’ And while those songs threatened to sink the show a bit, the rarely played ‘Memory Motel’ and the surprise world premiere of ‘Monkey Man’ — which featured an appearance by a stagehand in a surreal voodoo-themed costume — more than made up for it.

After two nights in the nation’s capital, the Stones spent the remainder of the year and the beginning of the next winding their way across North America before taking off to every continent on Earth with the exception of Antarctica. Their stop at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami was filmed live and saw release a year later on VHS as ‘The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Live.’ It was later reissued on DVD in 1998.

When all was said and done, the Rolling Stones ‘Voodoo Lounge’ tour proved to be a success unlike anything that had come before it. Across two years and 124 shows, the band performed for 6,336,776 people and raked in $320 million. To this date, it still ranks as the 10th highest grossing concert tour of all time and the second most well-attended, bested only by U2’s hyper-massive 360 Tour.

Next: Top 100 Rolling Stones Songs

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