Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stones 2.0

So you're the greatest rock and roll band in the world, you've been making hit records for nine years, and you're planning a set list for a 48-show U.S. tour to promote your new album. An even mix of old and new, right?

Not if you're the Rolling Stones. In 1972, they didn't play anything more than three years old except Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" and, on a few occasions, an encore medley with opening act Stevie Wonder that included "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Besides that, every song was from "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," and "Exile on Main St.," the epochal new record.

The result of this audaciousness was one of the most legendary tours in rock and roll history (I'm talking about the music, not the activities chronicled in the never-officially-released documentary with the name unfit for a family blog) and the greatest concert movie I've ever seen, "Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones." It was released in a few theaters in 1974, when I saw it twice, being a fanatic. Now, alleluia, it's finally out on DVD, so everyone can see Mick Jagger whipping the stage during "Midnight Rambler" the same year Richard Nixon was whipping George McGovern.

These were the dangerous guys Elvis warned Nixon about during their famous Oval Office meeting, no question. They were also my coming-of-age Stones. My friend Andy relates more to the 1960s iteration. It's more or less all about the the second-chair guitarist to Keith Richards' concertmaster: Band co-founder Brian Jones in the early and mid-1960s, Mick Taylor (shown here) from 1969-74, and Ron Wood ever since.

Wood's always played a lot like Richards. In a song called "Had Me A Real Good Time," which came out in 1971 when he was playing with Rod Stewart and the Faces, he even quotes Richards' riff from "Honky Tonk Women." It's a separated-at-birth kind of thing. In the latter-day Stones movie "Shine A Light," they grin at each other through their cigarette smoke like goofy teenagers. Their collaboration makes the band sound looser and more homogeneous.

The mid-career, Mick Taylor Stones, the ones on the new DVD from the 1972 tour, were astonishingly tight. Taylor, then 23, added a touch of uptown gloss, playing smooth, lyrical solos against Richards' rhythm pistons. The live album "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out" from the 1969 U.S. tour, the year Taylor joined the band, has the same sophisticated, propulsive energy.

But while blues professor Taylor stared down at the fretboard of his Les Paul, Jagger and Richards never looked at him. I'm not sure what that means. It's thought that when he quit two years later, it was because he didn't get along with Richards, who recently said that he's sorry Taylor left. Maybe Keith had just watched this movie again. Every number's sizzling hot, from "Brown Sugar" to "Street Fighting Man." But the Stones have always had a quiet side, too. Jagger-Richards were alt.-country pioneers with "Dead Flowers" and "Sweet Virginia," and in these performances their harmonies are dead-on.

Jagger (wearing three different spangled jumpsuits, since the movie was filmed during three Texas shows) really catches fire about halfway through on "All Down The Line" as the Stones go full bore with their two-piece horn section, Taylor's slide guitar, Richards' Kenworth-gear chord changes, and the Watts-Wyman battery. Not surprisingly, Jagger seemed to take his work a little more seriously back then, his apogee as a composer and performer. The Stones are always good, but in 1972, they were immense.

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