Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones spent 2010 recalling their history, pinpointing 1972 as a pivotal, game-changing year. Based on the reissue of Exile On Main Street and its companion documentary Stones In Exile, you’d think the band wasted away their days drinking, drugging, recording and lollygagging in France. In all actuality, Exile hit the record store shelves in May, and the Stones hit the road in June and July for their seventh North American tour. A triumphant return to form almost three years after Altamont, the now jet-setting Stones invited cameras into their world, producing two feature films with limited showings: Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones and its nasty second cousin, the notorious Cocksucker Blues. It’s safe to assume the latter will never see commercial release as long as the members of the Rolling Stones are alive and licking. However, to cap a spectacular year of retrospection, Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones has finally made it to DVD and Blu-ray.

For hardcore Stones fans, Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones may well be the holy grail next to Gimme Shelter. The tour itself has all the mythic shadings to gauge the band’s infamous reputation. The drugs, the groupies, the general rowdiness — all would come to symbolize a debaucherous period in the group’s colorful history. Filmmaker Robert Frank got all the dirt on film, much to the Stones consternation, and Cocksucker Blues remains shrouded in controversy to this day. None of that is in Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. Instead, we get a pure performance piece that transcends the depravity — an honest depiction of a great rock and roll band becoming the greatest rock and roll band.

With two of their strongest albums — Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street — to debut on America’s stages, how could the Stones fail? Mick Jagger was fit and firing on all cylinders. Keith Richards was strung out, yet musically alert. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman had rhythm down to a science. And the new boy in the band...Mick Taylor was simply beyond reproach. It would be his final trek through the States (his last appearance as a member of the Rolling Stones in the United States was on January 22, 1973, in Honolulu, Hawaii) — and by all accounts, he went out on top, leaving a vacuous void for the Stones to fill.

At these shows — shot over four nights in Texas — Taylor burns with fiery conviction, plugging in those fluid, flowing solos on “Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” “Gimme Shelter,” “All Down The Line,” et al. A two-horn configuration featuring saxophonist (and unofficial sixth Stone in a lot of folks' books) Bobby Keyes smoothes out the edges without staining the furniture on “Tumbling Dice.” Meanwhile, mood altering additives like “Love In Vain” (Taylor soars and slides all over this one too) and “Sweet Virginia” prove the Stones, no how altered their minds might have been at the time, could effortlessly lock in for a gorgeous measure or three. Barreling through barroom brawlers like “Bye Bye Johnny” and “Rip This Joint” before crossing the finishing line with “Street Fighting Man,” the band transformed that chemistry, cranked up the munitions, and let it run loose without any preconceived notions of the fall-out.

In the bonus 2010 interview with Mick Jagger, the singer seems to go to great lengths explaining how the film lacks production value, when compared to concert films of today, but he admits the performances and song choices are impressive. Never one to dwell on nostalgia, it would seem Jagger is finally catching up with his own legacy as one of the most integral elements in rock’s 60-year history. How he or anyone could deny the impact of this newly restored piece of rock and roll magnificence would display a great ignorance of the form’s appeal. At the end of the day, Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, which also includes bonus tracks not included in the original film and an Old Grey Whistle Test interview with Jagger from 1972, is the kind of history you want to relive again and again.

~ Shawn Perry

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