Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones Exhibit

Its only rock’n’roll (but I like it!)

The Rolling Stones started playing together in 1963, releasing their first single that year – Come On, written by Chuck Berry – and they’ve kept playing for the next 55 years. In fact, they’ve just announced their No Filter stadium tour of the U.S. visiting 11 cities starting in Miami Gardens, Florida in April 2019, and wrapping up in June in Chicago.

I first really noticed the Stones in the 1980s with songs such Start Me Up, Waiting on a Friend, Harlem Shuffle, She’s So Cold, and Emotional Rescue. Of course, this made me listen to their back catalogue and get a better feel for their music which really hit its peak in the late 60s and mid-70s. It was also their heyday in many ways.

I knew they had a life before the 80s but they’re the Stones I grew up with, and the Stones I’ve seen since have become older and craggier (albeit still quite sexy). Yet when I first saw this exhibition in 2016 in London and was confronted by one of the first photos taken of the band, I was taken aback by how young they were. In fact, they were so young I struggled to identify their line up. It wasn’t just because of their youth – the line up today is not the same as it was in those first days. Brian Jones, the original lead guitarist and founder died in 1969. He was replaced by Mick Taylor, a good looking young blues guitarist schooled by John Mayall, and later still by Ronnie Wood. Bill Wyman, the founding bass player, left the band in 1993 and was replaced by Darryl Jones – who has never fully been presented as one of the Stones.

It was this opening photo that really made the greatest impact on me in the exhibition; it set the scene so very well.

Exhibitionism takes the visitors through the ages of the Stones from the immersive concert footage at the beginning to the outfits, album cover art, instruments, and sounds.

For me the best part of the exhibition was really becoming aware of the sheer magnitude of the Rolling Stones’ reach. So far in their career, they have sold over 45 million concert tickets. There is a wall showing how many copies of each album they have sold to date around the world. I also really enjoyed the Rolling Stones On Film exhibit, narrated by Martin Scorsese (who made Shine A Light about the Stones in 2008).

For others, the range of guitars on display was the main attraction. One of the anecdotes told by Geoff Jones, CEO of TEG, who put together the exhibition, was that when Keith Richards was first taken through the exhibition in London he saw one of his old guitars and said he’d wondered where that had got to, and took it back. Ronnie later replaced it with one of his own.

Another anecdote, following the band members’ first walkthrough of the exhibition before it opened in London was their comments regarding the re-creation of their first share flat in Edith Grove, London.  After walking through the messy shared space, Mick reportedly said, ‘nah, I don’t remember it being this dirty’. Keith, who walked through later, said, ‘I don’t remember it ever being this clean’.

Mick had also kept most of the outfits he wore on stage and was able to remember which outfit he wore for each performance. The outfits ranged from the Carnaby-sourced outfits worn in the 60s to the loud red silk and fringed numbers worn in the following decades.

There’s an amazing collection of the album cover art and poster design, which was something of great focus for the band.

There’s Charlie Watts’ first, fairly basic, drum kit, a suite where you can remix a half dozen Stones songs and finally there is a 3D concert with a pounding delivery of Satisfaction, which is perhaps the only time Mick Taylor is seen performing in the exhibition, he being a guest on a recent tour.

Exhibitionism is totally about the band. I’d have perhaps enjoyed a little about the life around them – and the women who surrounded them.

Since opening in 2016 in London, Exhibitionism has traveled to New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Nashville before making its debut in the southern hemisphere here in Sydney where it will remain until early February. Exhibitionism is certainly worth a visit for big fans, sometime fans, and anyone who has an interest in rock and roll.

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