Saturday, November 21, 2009
GET YER YA YAs OUT
Presenting the Rolling Stones on their much documented 1969 US tour.
They came, packed venues and laid a somewhat dubious claim to the title of "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band". ( The Who, anyone?) This is not to say that they played poorly or were doing show tunes, though there were other groups that were firing on liquid hydrogen compared to Mick and his crew at that time.
Maybe they had the World's Greatest PR Firm on their side.
Arguments about branding aside, this is definitely an extremely worthwhile disc in many respects. Captured in excellent form in New York's hallowed Madison Square Garden over two nights, the Stones played with renewed fire thanks to their newest member, guitarist Mick Taylor. Brian Jones had been elbowed from the fold earlier that year and died under mysterious circumstances not long after. Taylor's public initiation with the band could have scarcely been more unnerving, as he found himself playing to 500,000 people in London's Hyde Park in July, just two days after Jones' passing.
Though you (regrettably) don't see him execute the brilliant slide solo that he lays down here on their reworking of Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain", you definitely hear and feel it. Panache wins the day.
Fast forward to the fall gigs in the States.
Working their way across North America, with new technology (monitors) that afforded everyone the luxury of hearing themselves on stage for the first time, they also had the means to project their sound to larger audiences. People now expected value for their concert dollar, had grown with their favorite artists and were now coming to the gigs to actually listen.
Having been away from the US touring circuit for three years, the pressure was on to bring a monumental spectacle to each city. To their credit, the Stones delivered. Kicking off with a trippy collage of overlapping introductions, the album opens with "Jumping Jack Flash".
Jagger, resplendent in his Uncle Sam top hat, cape and stage uniform emblazoned with the Omega symbol provides the ultimate lesson in how to front a band with aplomb. Charlie and Bill hold down the rhythm expertly, leaving Keith and Mick Taylor a solid foundation over which they weave their six-string magic. There is a certain energy that emanates from this record that you feel across all of the forty years that have elapsed since they played these shows. Dirtier than the toilet on the cover of Beggars Banquet, there is no doubt that they tapped into a fantastic vibe, amplifying it considerably. "Sympathy For the Devil" finds them particularly inspired and deep in their own groove.
Here is something to ponder as you pound the tabletop in time with Charlie Watts' impeccable playing. Why is it that kids in the early 80s were not rushing out to buy Glenn Miller records on the fortieth anniversary of his passing? Surely, live recordings of "In the Mood" should have been repackaged and had people clamoring to get their hands on them?
The same amount of water has drifted under the bridge since these performances and the expanded, 40th anniversary edition of "Ya Ya's" is available, with legions of fans going out of pocket to possess it. The reissue contains five extra tunes, plus a bonus disc featuring the opening sets by both B B King AND Ike and Tina Turner. You also get the DVD, vinyl copy and a small vial of the special serum that has allowed Keith Richards to avoid many scheduled lunch dates with the Grim Reaper since 1966.
"Prodigal Son" is a highlight amongst the extras.
Personally, I have a soft spot for this disc. It sits proudly in my collection (vinyl copy), gets dusted off every so often and cranked. Fixed up with some post production work, mainly to correct vocals, it remains a great testament to the tight-knit, live powerhouse that the Rolling Stones became as the calendar page turned to close out the tumultuous sixties. The material on the official release was culled from their most recent LPs at that time (Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed) with two Chuck Berry covers ("Carol" and "Little Queenie") and the aforementioned "Love In Vain". I can't ever listen to them doing "Carol" without thinking of Berry giving Keith shit about the opening bend in the riff while they were rehearsing for the concert that ends Taylor Hackford's brilliant film, "Hail.Hail Rock and Roll".
"Midnight Rambler" is a high watermark in showcasing the live blues tightrope that they walked so well, complete with dark subject matter and dynamite, gritty harp playing from Jagger. "Stray Cat Blues" is literally attacked in performance, put across beautifully with a different arrangement than the album version. There is a great sense of purpose in this endeavor, almost as if to let people know that they were still vital, sharp and not about to relinquish their position in the commercial arena. Quite funny to think about now, when you consider that they were all still quite young, though, to be fair, so was rock music and a year away from the scene meant that you ran the risk of ending up as yesterday's news.
Bootleg recordings of their 1969 shows started circulating following the tour, not a penny of which was making its way back to the group. "Live'r Than You'll Ever Be" was an audience recording of a gig in Oakland (in fairly decent fidelity) that had record executives nervous and was even treated to a review in the music papers of that era. The official release was far superior, yet there is a treasure trove of live recordings to be found from this period, if you are a collector.
The final word belongs to Keith Richards.
You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones.