Sunday, August 28, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ROLLING STONES - TOTALLY STRIPPED
We know the drill, it's been the same since the 70s. The Stones make an album, go on tour, then they release a live album, and a live concert film. It hasn't changed, except they don't bother making new albums any more, since they don't sell, they just put out a super deluxe bonus something box.
Well, there was one time when they shook things up. During the huge Voodoo Lounge tour, it was decided they should shake things up for the usual live album they would record. Unplugged was all the rage then, but the Stones weren't about to slouch into MTV like all those others. They had business around the world, after all. So they designed a Rolling Stones version of unplugged, which would allow them to strip down on certain stages, and play some very different tracks in much more intimate venues. Well, 1500 to 2000 is pretty intimate for them.
The resulting album was probably a bit of a flop in sales terms, considering they could have gone the Unplugged route and sold numbers like Clapton and Rod Stewart and Nirvana. But as for quality, well ... it's easily one of the very best of the many Stones live sets before or since, thanks to the concept they created. With some tracks recorded in the studio in Tokyo with acoustic guitars and a relaxed vibe, plus others done at three shows in small venues in Europe, it was the Stones as we'd never heard them before; a bit like the old club blues band, but now perhaps the best rock and roll machine going, without the oversized silliness of the stadium.
This deluxe set lives up to its name, by giving us pretty much everything from the Stripped shows. It's four DVD's and a CD, housed in a very cool hard-cover book, with the whole story in the notes and a ton of great photos. Everything's better in small halls, as both the photos and video shows. All three of the Stripped shows are included, each with widely varying set lists. The fourth DVD is a reworked version of the documentary on the whole plan, something that didn't get a lot of airing in the first place, it was certainly new to me. The CD isn't the original one either, but a compilation of other tracks from the shows, so you can still keep that original version of Stripped too.
Wow, watching the band interact with the very close audience is great, and you can see so much better what a truly stupendous stage group they were. They were all around 50 at this point, and on top of their game still. Richards and Wood were both on fired, Wood especially enjoying playing lots of slide and acoustic leads. Jagger is so much more enjoyable without all the huge stage antics, and with everybody so close, they were really enjoying each other's company. There's a joy throughout each show, onstage and backstage, and even Charlie seemed happy to be doing something different, and obviously fun for them all.
Famously, this is where they covered Like A Rolling Stone, and it was a darn good choice, despite the corniness of the joke. But there are lots of songs that rarely, or even never made live playlists; Shine A Light debuted live here, and Keith played Between The Button's obscure Connection. The Spider and the Fly got brought back, and cool mini-sets emerged: the faux country numbers Dead Flowers, Sweet Virginia and Faraway Eyes, the early covers Not Fade Away and It's All Over Now, acoustic guitar-led takes of Beast of Burdon, Angie and Let It Bleed. Even Monkey Man shows up one night in Brixton. As Jagger jokes about having to remember all the old lyrics, "It's like being on Rolling Stones quiz show."
There are a few options of what to buy, including just the documentary, a combo pack with the doc and the CD, etc. But I sure love the big set, with all three quite different shows and the great book. If there was ever a better version of Midnight Rambler than the Paris one, I don't know it. If they ever had more fun on stage, I haven't seen it. And if Keith and Mick ever looked happier to be together on the same set, it would have been acting, because here you can't hide the pure pleasure this brought them. Oh, and Charlie smiled. A lot.