DVD Review: The Rolling Stones "Ladies And Gentlemen...The Rolling Stones"

DVD Review:  The Rolling Stones "Ladies And Gentlemen...The Rolling Stones"
Eagle Vision
All Access Review:  A

The shock and horror of Altamont had subsided, and to avoid a tax hell in England, the Rolling Stones had reluctantly taken their rock and roll circus to France. And somehow, in that crumbling palace of sin and dissolution known as Nellcote villa, where Keith Richards lived and did an obscene amount of drugs and parties went deep into the night, as did the occasional recording session, the Stones created a masterpiece, Exile on Main Street.

As the recently released documentary “Stones in Exile” so eloquently illustrates, the hazy, elegantly wasted atmosphere was hardly conducive to focused, intense work. Indeed, the Stones took their own sweet time in finishing the album, and by all rights, considering the environment, Exile on Main Street, a double album of all things, should have been a mess. And it was … but what a glorious mess it was.

Released to lukewarm reviews initially, the fabled Exile … would, as everyone knows, become one of the most revered albums in rock history, but then came the supporting tour. By Mick Jagger’s own admission, the far-flung band, spread out all over France, wasn’t always on its game every night. They could be sloppy and uninspired, but by the time they got to Texas, the Stones had transformed, once again, into the raucous, energized and tight-as-a-corset unit that made them one of rock’s greatest ever live acts.

Filmed over four nights in the Lone Star State in 1972, “Ladies And Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones” was original released theatrically for limited engagements in 1974. Few eyes have seen it since. Hidden from the public for 35 years, “Ladies And Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones” is an absolute treasure, a beautifully shot concert film – the colors rich and dark, and the camera angles varied and placed just right – that captures the Stones at the height of their live prowess. If previous shows on the Exile tour didn’t exactly set the world on fire, the performances here are the work of gleeful arsonists, the Stones blazing from the onset through such spirited numbers as “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch.” 

Cameras hone in on the flashy Jagger as he prances and crows with undisguised enthusiasm for the material, and he never lets up, even when sharing the spotlight with Richards on a rip-roaring, horn-splashed version of “Happy.” And his deliciously mischievous drawl wraps around every word of the acoustically tangled country gold of “Sweet Virginia” and “Dead Flowers” with equal doses of pleasure and pain.

In sharp contrast to Jagger’s attention-grabbing histrionics, Mick Taylor stands in stony silence off to one side, fluidly wringing out guitar leads that curl up and around Richards’ rhythmic stabs like ivy, while drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman set a quick pace for every song, handling their melodic contours with grace and toughness. An absolutely joyous “All Down the Line” chugs into the evil blues of “Midnight Rambler” like a runaway train, and the Stones inject a shot of adrenaline into Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” to name just a few of the many highlights here. And though the absence of the soaring female backing vocals on the recorded version of “Gimme Shelter” might be missed here, the band’s electrically charged performance will make you forget they were ever there. Every song is pure dynamite, the playing dynamic and forceful and Jagger rallying the troops with that trademark herky-jerky vim and vigor is a total delight.

An “Old Grey Whistle Test” interview with Jagger that’s included with the DVD isn’t very interesting, except as a piece of nostalgia from the period. Jagger’s 2010 interview about the film serves as a better companion piece, as do tour rehearsals from Montreux that find the band working through “Shake Your Hips,” “Tumbling Dice” and “Blueberry Jam.”

A deluxe edition box set of “Ladies And Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones” is also out. It includes additional bonus material and memorabilia. But if that’s a little out of your price range, this DVD is an essential historical document all on its own. 
-         Peter Lindblad

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