(Eagle Rock; 90 minutes)
BY MARY LEARY
It’s not the relatively big-eyed, new-to-the-limelight
Stones that still mixed originals with cover songs from its R&B heroes
(some of which can be seen on the Birth
of doc. released in ‘06). Nor is it the top-o’-the-world explosion
encapsulated by Scorcese (Shine a Light,
2008). The raggedy, all-night textures and snapshots of early-‘70s European
“freak” life of last summer’s Stones in
Exile release aren’t here, but the fruits of the labor at the heart of SIX are everywhere present in Ladies and Gentlemen. Despite being
filmed about three years after Brian Jones’s death, and the near-devastating
events at Altamont, these performances are
invigorated by renewed swagger.
The material met the swagger. Along with proven fodder like
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Midnight Rambler,” the Stones were
eager to bite into Exile songs
“Happy” and “Tumbling Dice.” Next to Scorcese’s feature-quality Shine a Light, not to mention Jean-Luc
Godard’s brilliant, chaotic Sympathy for
the Devil (1968; rereleased in ’03), this film, of minimally-staged concerts
filmed over four nights in 1972 in Texas – is more in the way of diner fare;
perhaps chicken-fried steak or bangers and mash. Ladies and Gentlemen eases in with blackness, then some dancing
lights with the sounds of tech scurryings. There are lights, there are Stones,
there’s action: after getting plugged in, the band dives right into a fat,
juicy “Brown Sugar” embellished by the full Exile line-up, including Bobby Keys and Jim Price on horns and Nicky Hopkins on
keyboards. If Keith Richards sounds a bit out of tune, and the band’s not the
tightest in the world, who cares? The party’s started.
Jagger’s flicking his tongue over his lips like a meth
addict (no comment); on fire enough to pull off the revealing jumpsuits he’s
affecting at this point. Things get tighter with “Bitch,” which is greeted by
the audience with wild enthusiasm. (One of the only things lacking is crowd
shots: you occasionally hear – but never see-the multitudes, until the film’s
end. Also, the film might be challenging for someone with acute claustrophobia;
maintaining a steady focus from roughly three feet in front of the center of
gravity; er, Jagger.) Richards is playing so hard that Jagger’s song coda,
“String’s busted,” is as inevitable as other well-chosen comments or messages
to the crowd: the guy’s all-business in a rock ‘n’ roll-is-my-business vein.
It’s the Stones, it’s ‘72; it’s the Exile tour: You know the drill, right? This is hot stuff. You’ll
have to grab a copy for your own blow-by-blow. Still, it seems important to
point out that “Dead Flowers” is a stunner. Anyone who’s followed the Glimmer
Twins’ pursuit of pure American C&W understands the satisfaction they felt
at creating, and emoting, this one. Richards happily waltzes over to Jagger’s mic.
for his part in the duo’s gravel ‘n’ sugar harmonies. Mick Taylor’s throwing
down guitar gurgles so consistently lovely, one might be tempted to start taking
him for granted.
Other high points include the roar of the crowd that starts
about a minute before the denouement of a ravenous, ramshackle run through
“Happy” (I have a weakness for Richards: looks like a lot of others do, too). Although
I’d still rather hear Robert Johnson’s original, Mick Taylor’s slide work on “Love
in Vain” – and the way it works with Richards’s guitar – is something to hear. The
acoustic guitars on “Sweet Virginia” provide sweet succor from the general din.
And “Midnight Rambler,” quite simply, has smoke coming out of its ears.
By the way, anyone know who ended up with the pick Richards
tosses into the audience after burning his way through “Jumping Jack Flash”?
I’d like to know how long that fan garnered free drinks with that story. And –
gotta admit it – when the announcer has to keep telling the audience it’s over,
as Cat Stevens’ “Hard Headed Woman” winds out of the arena’s loudspeakers, it’s
almost too painful – that’s how badly I want to hop a freight back to ’72.
Ladies and Gentlemen had a brief theatrical release, then occasionally surfaced over the years in
the form of an Australian VHS. It deserved better. [It was also bootlegged on DVD several times, and in 2006 the notorious
4 Reel label issued it as part of their “Definitive Master” series, in both
widescreen and fullscreen, and featuring recently-unearthed outtakes from the
film along with the band’s “Dick Cavett Show” appearance. – Archival Ed.]
Much, much better arrived this week when
the deluxe package dropped – hopefully not hitting anything fragile – as it’s
packed with extras fit for the greediest Stones-monger, including heretofore-unseen
photographs, footage from previously unreleased TV performances, a Stones
scarf, a copy of the Stones in Exile DVD, a reproduction of the original film poster, and a 60-page book.
Two interviews with Mick Jagger; rehearsal footage.