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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls Live In Texas

While seemingly the entirety of Johannesburg's population under the age of 35 were attending Coldplay's massive one-night-only stadium concert, I found myself enjoying a rather different concert experience. Cine 2 at Sandton City's multiplex is normally host to press screenings that Ster Kinekor hold for their 3D releases but last night that by now very familiar - and, it has to be said, rather nice - cinema offered up something a whole lot more interesting than a pointless stereoscopic conversion of The Lion King. I don't want to speak ill of what I'm sure was a great concert-going experience for Coldplay fans (personally, I could take them or leave them) but I can't imagine it being more electrifying than this woefully under-attended showing of a previously unreleased concert film that caught The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band in one of their most interesting, not to say best, creative periods. Sadly, this was only one of a small handful of showings for this great film so its unlikely that South African audiences will get another chance to catch it on the big screen (though, Americans, at least, will still have that chance come 18 October) but it is due for a DVD/ Blu-Ray release towards the end of the year so consider this an advance review of a set that is bound to be a must-own for all dyed-in-the-wool rock and roll fans.                

Also published on Artslink

It's hard to believe what a difference 6 years makes. The previous archive Stones live release, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones captured a period in the Rolling Stones' history when they were sitting right on the top of the world, living up to their self-appointed - but well-earned - label as the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World. Touring their magnum opus, Exile on Main Street, Ladies and Gentlemen includes everything you could want from a rock and roll show at the time: great songs, virtuoso musicianship and, lets be honest, a certain level of pompous, self-important seriousness that flourished in the heyday of prog-rock and jam bands.

Cut to 1978 and things are rather different. The intervening years between '72 and '78 saw The Stones - as well as the genre they represented - undergo some fairly serious, tumultuous changes. As Keith Richards became more and more drug-addled, the Stones' critical standing was hurt by a string of albums that, though perfectly good on their own terms, were a serious step down from the giddy heights that the band consistently reached between 1968 and 1972. Meanwhile, The Stones' stage shows more and more captured the state of rock and roll at the time: overblown, fatuous and musically irrelevant.

Enter the punks.

You can always argue about just how much the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash truly changed the face of popular music but one thing is certain: they sure as hell scared the life back into life at least a part of the reigning musical establishment. Essentially throwing down the gauntlet on what rock and roll used to be, it was up to the classic rockers to pick it up and show that there was some fire left in those old (over 30!) bones.

For The Rolling Stones, at least, it meant releasing an album that was easily their best since Exile but, perhaps even more importantly, it returned a focus and a hunger to their live performances. Until now, of course, this was only evident if you were lucky enough to see them during that period or by knowing where to look for the right bootlegs (the brilliant Handsome Girls, in particular). With Some Girls Live in Texas, however, we finally get an official front seat to an area in the Stones' live career that has previously been neglected - and its even more spectacular than even the best bootlegs dared to suggest.

It undeniably helps that the guys at Eagle Vision did such a sterling job remastering the both the video and the sound. Aside for some moments where the camera goes slightly out of focus (presumably that was simply how it was when originally filmed), the visuals are a huge step up from the somewhat drab Ladies and Gentlemen and, though it lacks the professional sheen of the band's later releases, it's a show that simply needs to be seen, not just heard.

Disregarding the music for a moment, Some Girls Live In Texas is a blast simply to watch. The camera may - as is typical - focus far more on Mick Jagger than any other member of the band but it's more than justifiable in this case. His live singing may be variable but Jagger has always been the world's greatest frontman but nothing could have prepared me for how magnetic, how enrapturing a presence he is here. Not standing still for a second, Jagger takes his characteristic preening to new levels as he constantly taunts both the audience and the rest of the band (he lays it on especially think every time he gets within a couple of feet of -still - new Stone on the block, Ronnie Wood) before busting out a fevered dance move that, more often than not this time around, owes as much to Pete Townshend as it does to James Brown. Not to be totally outdone, Keith and Ronnie do more than their share of mugging for crowd and camera alike and it's clear that the band as a whole is having a good time.

The difference is, though, that unlike certain other tours, the buffoonery is tempered by a genuine intensity to their performances. It's just as well that the newly remastered, surround sound is as perfectly balanced, clear and punchy as it is because these are performances that deserve the best possible audio presentation. I'm not going to lie, I did on occasion miss the more relaxed swing of the Stones' later live sound but that doesn't change the fact that for pure, full-blooded energy, Some Girls Live In Texas is the official Stones release to beat.

The avatar of punk-rock is an omnipresent force throughout the concert. While The Rolling Stones of Ladies and Gentleman presents a band at the top of their game simply doing what they do best and later releases are simply a showcase of a well-oiled musical unit simply enjoying the fact that they're still around doing what they love, The Rolling Stones of Some Girls Live In Texas are a band with something to prove. While putting on a truly exciting, entertaining show, the boys seem desperate to show just why they were once considered to be The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World and to show just where all that punk energy came from in the first place.

The straight-up rock and roll numbers obviously benefit tremendously from this new approach as career best performances of Star Star (the song that Chuck Berry should have been writing when he wrote My Ding-A-Ling), When The Whip Comes Down and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen, clearly show. More surprising is the intensity that is brought to the fore on a rocking but somehow still beautiful version of Beast of Burden, a more relentless but still oh-so-groovy Tumbling Dice and, most especially, a version of Love In Vain that sounds closer to Howlin' Wolf than original author, Robert Johnson.          

Highlights are somewhat difficult to select as each and every song has the same levels of power and intensity - only a ramshackle version of Some Girls' hilarious-yet-insanely-pretty country ditty, Faraway Eyes, providing any real light relief. The reason is simple: every single member of the band are on fire for every second of the 90-odd minute set.

Bolstered by minimalistic support from Stones stalwart, Ian Stewart, on piano and Ronnie's former Faces bandmate, Ian McLagan, on keyboards, no member of the Rolling Stones have ever been better. Charlie Watts's drum work fuses with Bill Wyman's bass to provide the typically great rhythm on which the Stones's sound is based - only this time even more so - while Keith's riffing has never been more pulsatingly powerful. On the lead guitar front, Keith's guitar merges with Ronnie's incendiary mixture of traditional lead and slide guitars in their now-famous "ancient art of weaving" guitar interplay but, though Keith is in typically faultless form, it is Ronnie who truly impresses. Anyone wondering why he was chosen for the job need look no further than his stellar playing here. It may lack the virtuoso smoothness of his predecessor, Mick Taylor but his interplay with Keith is as fiery as it is lyrical.       

As for the vocals, Jagger is, as I said, typically variable on a technical level but - however much his weird annunciation of All Down the Line may have bugged me - he brings a gritty, almost aggressive passion to every song here that constantly took me by surprise - with his growling stab at Love In Vain being particularly and shockingly intense. Best of all though, in a practice that has mostly fallen by the wayside over the years, he is given plenty of ragged support with backing vocals by Keith and Ronnie.    

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls: Live In Texas is simply a Rolling Stones live show unlike any official document of the band we have seen to date. And, though, it's certainly not the only Stones DVD you need  - I, for one, have particular soft spots for Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones; Bridges to Babylon and the theatre show from Paris that can be found in the Four Flicks boxset - with its unconventional set-list (seven out of the twenty tracks are from the recently released Some Girls album, while a further two are Chuck Berry covers); flawless mixture of musicianship and showmanship; overall consistency and an  electrifying, punkish energy, it is very probably the best to date.

I can't wait to see Eagle Vision try and top this with their next archive release.

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