Classic Rock Corner

Rolling Stones and Who Raid Vaults for Live Sets

Mick Jagger onstage with the Rolling Stones in italy, 1982.
Mick Jagger onstage with the Rolling Stones in italy, 1982. Gorupdebesanez/Wiki Commons
While the Rolling Stones’ latest live DVD, Olé Olé Olé—A Trip Across Latin America, chronicles their recent tour across cities south (some very south) of the border, there has also been a steady stream of vintage shows released or re-released in recent years. Three of them are now available in stand-alone CD format.

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Many fans often cite the early 1972 Exile on Main Street tour as perhaps the band’s high point as a live unit. The incredible new material on that record making its debut and the addition of Mick Taylor on guitar, giving a jolt to the lineup, are often cited as reasons.

But you wouldn’t know that listening to Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. While highlights come in the form of “Bitch,” “Dead Flowers” and “Tumbling Dice,” the sound mix is muddy here. In addition, Mick Jagger more moans and howls than sings – though that only illuminates the fine contributions of drummer Charlie Watts and tour sax player Bobby Keys to the mix. For completists only.

Fun fact: The second film to emerge from the tour, the documentary Cocksucker Blues, was the most controversial thing the band ever committed to the screen, its legend buoyed over the years by the fact that it was rarely seen (though these days it’s screened in places like the MFAH).

Of more interest and worthiness is Some Girls Live in Texas ’78. It captures a gig at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth during the tour for that album that found the Stones mixing punk, new wave and disco into their sound. And their tour staging was definitely a back-to-basics approach after previous, more elaborate set-ups.

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The Stones – now with Ron Wood on guitar – certainly sound energized and cracking, especially on the middle section that featured an astonishing seven of the new album’s tracks in a row (though only lead single “Miss You” had much recognition at the time of the show). Highlights in addition to that song include “When the Whip Comes Down” and “Shattered,” though the mock country tune “Far Away Eyes” drags. The band sort of rushes through some of their bigger previous hits toward the end, though “Honky Tonk Women,” earlier in the set, cooks.

The Stones have throughout their entire career never hidden their reverence for and appreciation of Chicago-based blues, and especially the work of Muddy Waters (hell, their very name comes from one of his tunes).

The master first met the acolytes in 1964 at Chess Studios, and on a very special night off of their massive 1981 U.S. tour, some of the band got together with Waters and his own group at a tiny club on the south side of Chicago.

Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago, 1981 is the live recording from that night, now available for the first time ever. Sure, there are more “definitive” versions of these ten blues/Waters standards, like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Long Distance Call,” “Got My Mojo Workin’” and “Champagne and Reefer,” out there, but they don't carry the amount of fun that these seem to.

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For the Stones, it’s Keith Richards and Ron Wood on guitars that shine through (Mick Jagger is relegated to trading a few lines with Waters here and there or cheering him along with exhortations). And when Chess stalwarts Buddy Guy and Junior Wells join the amalgamation on a few numbers, things get amped up even more.

There’s not a lot of spontaneity here (in the video, you can see how the ’80s-style video cameras with the jarring white lights affect the crowd); this is a nice little souvenir of “fathers and sons” coming together for one night only.

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I would have liked to give a full review of the DVD/2CD The Who-Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004, especially since it was a major gig after the death of founding bassist John Entwistle early in the previous year. But I simply had to bail after the fourth song – though no fault of the band, who seemed energetic to the task.

I’ve reviewed scores of concert films and seen many more, but the camera editing and pacing here is so frenetic, helter-skelter and constantly changing that it actually made me dizzy to watch.

In addition, the sometimes-unfocused lens never rests on one performer long enough – that includes vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist/vocalist Pete Townshend – to give a visual resonance. So this show is recommended only to doctors who are trying to trigger seizures in patients.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero