Friday, November 16, 2012

Stones at 50: Preserving the LIVE legacy!

Brussels Affair (Live 1973)
As a fan of the Rolling Stones, it’s been a good year. In celebration of their 50th anniversary, Mick promised us stuff and stuff we’re getting, including a new book spanning their career, the scheduling of five annoyingly overpriced arena concerts, three here in the US and two in the UK, with strong hints of more to come; the release of (whoopee! another) Greatest Hits collection, a CD release of excellent 1978-era outtakes; and two documentaries covering aspects of their amazing career.

But best of all, we got live music from the archives. That's what this post is about. 

I’m not driving five hours and paying $500.00 for nosebleed tickets, and another Stones book or two in my collection isn’t exactly priority one. A new Greatest Hits collection? Seriously? You did it ten years ago, and you’re never going to surpass Hot Rocks anyway.

Hampton Coliseum (Live, 1981)The historic documentaries are neat and I look forward to seeing them.  The Stones make for endless contemplation.  They ARE a fascinating group of individuals and just trying to get a grasp on the inter-band dynamics, particularly since the 1970s, has eaten up a good deal of my life.  All good.  But I’ve been a Stones fan since the mid 1970s, and in the end there’s exactly one reason for that: the music.  And for me, the live music is what I love the best.  

After all, it was the 1977 album Love You Live that helped make me a fan in the first place! Has that album held up over time? Pretty much. Did it provide the soundtrack for my high school nonsense at the time it was released, and does the mere listening to it immediately throw me back 35 years in time? “You betcha!” Move those speakers closer!

Roundhay Park (Live, 1982)I think the Stones collectively must understand that along with about a half-dozen acknowledged classic albums and a few other great ones, this is where their real legacy lies – the power of the live Rolling Stones performance. This year, we’ve been treated to the release of six official and impeccably remixed, downloadable “bootlegs,” at just $4.99 a pop; and two DVDs capturing critical performances from their remarkable career.  The releases include, in chronological order:

  •  Brussels 1973 - Absolutely beloved 1973 performance with Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
  • Los Angeles 1975 –early Ron Wood (and man does he sizzle throughout)
  •  Forth Worth 1978 – DVD/CD in one package, capturing an exemplary small-hall performance. Saw this in a theater with my man Marty and had one great night.
  • Chicago 1981 – DVD/CD release of a Muddy Waters show at Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge.  Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and long-time Stones pianist Ian Stewart (“Stu”) sit in for most of the set.
  • Hampton 1981 – recorded on Keith’s birthday at the end of the 1981 US tour, a favorite show among collectors.
  • Leeds 1982 – a great high-energy show, seemingly cocaine fueled (or at least they had a lot of coffee?), and also historic for two reasons. One, it was Stu’s last show with the band; two, it ended the last tour where the Stones played as a balls-to-the-wall working band, as opposed to the less spontaneous and more regimented (but still highly enjoyable!) “modern era” version that has toured since 1989.
  • Tokyo 1990 – solid show from the “modern” era (see above). I’m a sucker for the part near the end where they play Paint It, Black, 2000 Light Years From Home, and Sympathy For the Devil...and I like the diversity of the set list.
  • Toronto 2005 – a warm-up show for the A Bigger Bang tour.
Now let’s face it: that’s a HELL of a lot of live material to release over one year! And that’s not a complete list. For example, the documentaries features performances from the Brian Jones era.
Roundhay Park (Live, 1982)
These are all affordable, which is nice too. Sure, you CAN spend a grand for the “Deluxe” Brussels Affair boxed set.  This is the Stones, after all – they appreciate the power of the dollar if nothing else.  But you can also download any of the shows for less than five bucks from Google, which is good enough for me!
So what does all this tell us? Well, I’ll give you a couple of my personal observations.

One, generally speaking, it’s way cool that the Stones bothered to do this. This is not big money for them –the concerts, where they’ll see $16-20M for five nights work, the deluxe boxed sets, the new compilation, and the interest all this will generate in their back catalogue, and there’s the payday. Nope, these releases, and in particular the $4.99 downloads, are for the fans. You gotta like that.

Two, I would have liked a bit more diversity – a couple more shows from the Mick Taylor era perhaps, a classic 1995 theater show, or the 1977 El Mocambo shows performed after Keith’s drug bust. But who am I to complain? The initial announcement was for six shows and they filled that commitment; maybe more will be coming.

L.A. Forum (Live, 1975)Three, it’s interesting to me how much play the 1981-1982 era received – two concerts with nearly identical set-lists, as well as the Chicago Muddy Waters show.  But, Hampton 1981 and Leeds 1982 are both top-notch performances and worth having, so who cares really? I would give the nod, though, to the 1982 show. When I think back to the 1981 show I saw in Cleveland, this was how I remembered it: everything sped up, solid playing from all members of the band, Keith and Ronnie doing their “ancient art of weaving” thing at its best. Mick is in tremendous form.  The only other recording from that year that I have, from Naples, features a lackluster performance where Woody seems AWOL for a good deal of the show.

Four, to me, the Toronto 2005 show is the most curious of the releases.  The mix is tremendous, especially from my perspective as a drummer. If you’re interested in studying Charlie’s every move, listen to this.  Also, they did Get Up, Stand Up, which I saw them do in Philly (with my man Scott) and loved.  However, it’s only 14 songs, of which four are from the Bigger Bang album. I like that album well enough; but that’s excessive. The warhorses trotted out at the end are somewhat perfunctory, and Tumbling Dice in particular sounds tired. It’s an OK performance and I like the experimentation with some of the arrangements, but there are other small-club or theater shows that I’d have preferred.

Five, if you’re thinking of picking some of these up, I’d recommend a "top five" in the following order:

1.       Brussels. It’s almost a shame to list this first, given that it’s the only one with Mick Taylor, but it’s just such a strong performance.

That's the Mick I Love
2.       Fort Worth. Absolutely fantastic show, but also I’m biased.  1978 was the first time I saw the Stones, and I just love that whole era, Mick’s red shiny pants, floppy hat and all.

3.       Leeds (technically Roundhay Park). Butt kicking, fun as can be. When it was first released, I was disappointed but I’ve heard it a few times now, and I like it more each time.

4.       Chicago (Checkerboard Lounge). This is what we all more or less dream of, right? Being at a blues show in some tiny club, and the Stones appear and jam for an hour?

5.       Tokyo.  Most hard core Stones enthusiasts will disagree with me on this one. The push would be for LA 1975, which demonstrates how good Ronnie can be and is a strong performance.  But the 1990 show has historic value. The Stones have toured with horns, backup singers, and regimented tempos for half their career now – since 1989. This show captures the feel of modern-day Stones as well as any and to me at least, it’s damn fine! Stop sulking and enjoy.

Anyway, this post is just my way of giving the Stones a public thank you for making sure that among all the hoopla of the 50th, these lower-key, affordable releases for the loyalists were made available. It’s a nice gift for those looking quite askance at $1500 tickets for arena shows, even if they DO come with a backstage buffet.

Onward and upward…50 years…and counting.   And for those interested in Keith and Mick's quite excellent (and extensive) take on the whole bootleg series, be sure to check out: - and go to 34:40 to see Keith bash some stage interloper - classic moment!


  1. Excellent review! Thank you so much!
    So nice to hear something from a real FAN and not just the usual bashing & whining from the peanut gallery!!!

  2. Monte - great stuff, thanks for the history lesson - spawht awn, mate!