By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor
WORCESTER – On September 14, 1981, The Rolling Stones played in front of 300 people in a packed nightclub on Green Street in Worcester while 4,000 other fans gathered outside.
What brought the “world’s greatest rock n’ roll band” to Sir Morgan’s Cove? The club was later known as The Lucky Dog Music Hall, then The Cove Music Hall, before it succumbed to the wrecking ball this March.
Warm-up for national tour
The Stones had been holed up at Long View Farm in nearby North Brookfield for several weeks, rehearsing and preparing for the kickoff of their first tour in three years. They wanted to do a warm-up gig before the tour’s official first show at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Enter WAAF-FM, the storied Worcester rock station, which helped The Stones find the venue, and gave away tickets to the gig. The band’s keyboard player, Ian Stewart, supposedly visited a variety of Worcester nightspots anonymously before selecting Sir Morgan’s. The tickets were distributed randomly by station staff who drove around Worcester and gave them to people either wearing WAAF t-shirts or with a WAAF bumper sticker on their cars.
WAAF kept the location of the show a secret, and the band name on the tickets said, “The Cockroaches.” But word leaked out from other sources that it was The Stones who would play, at Sir Morgan’s Cove, and 4,000 people gathered in the street in front of the club. The city of Worcester deployed 75 police officers to keep order, but other than less than a dozen arrests for disorderly conduct, the Stones-struck crowd was well-behaved. It didn’t hurt that the club opened the front doors to the venue so the fans outside could hear the music, despite the police concern that it might cause people to storm inside.
What songs they played
The set list is a matter of debate, with the number of songs performed varying from as few as a dozen to as high as 22. The website setlist.fm, considered one of the best historical repositories of concert set lists, says The Stones played 17 songs, mostly originals, with a few covers thrown in, like the blues classic “I Just Want to Make Love to You” by Willie Dixon. It was the live debut of several new songs, including “Start Me Up” and “She’s So Cold.” Interestingly, it was also the live debut of the song “Let It Bleed” from the 1969 album of the same name, and it was the first time since 1969 that The Stones had played “Under My Thumb” live.
By the time the band launched into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the final song of the performance, Mick Jagger was shirtless and bathed in sweat, as one of the most famous nights in Massachusetts pop music history came to an exultant end.