The Rolling Stones
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
They haven’t reached Grateful Dead levels of concert album tonnage and probably never will, but the Rolling Stones are consistently opening the vaults to satiate their enormous fan base with generally high-quality results. Here’s the most recent addition to an ever expanding list.
The concept behind the Stones’ 1995 Stripped album was to combine highlights of three shows played on 95’s Voodoo Lounge tour in somewhat more intimate European venues (Amsterdam, Paris, London), with some acoustic tunes recorded in the studio on the same run. While the concerts were definitely plugged in, the auditoriums of five thousand or less not only allowed the group to play songs that wouldn’t work in the stadiums they frequent, but provide a tougher sound on rockers that have populated their set for decades.
While the ’95 disc captured an impressive batch of performances, there were many more quality ones left, including video of the three full smaller hall shows, never before commercially available. According to producer Don Was, the Stones were playing at peak powers and the new, nearly 80-minute, 14-song CD (only “Street Fighting Man” is duplicated from the first release, although four other titles are on both, albeit from different performances) bears evidence to how hot they were.
This finds the group digging into some relative rarities such as “Far Away Eyes” and “Dead Flowers” to take advantage of the halls’ less bombastic size. Only one tune from Voodoo Lounge, a six minute take on rocker “I Go Wild,” makes the cut. But the Stones are in fine fettle, driving through a rugged “Rip This Joint” and a seldom played “Not Fade Away,” their first big hit that opens the set and features impressively raw blues harp from Jagger. Despite the title, these versions aren’t particularly stripped down, certainly no more than the original recordings. And with selections such as “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Jumping Jack Flash”–both featuring a four piece horn section, Chuck Leavell’s piano and backing vocals– actually bulked up substantially. A case can be made for not repeating any titles since there are lots more tunes that could have been chosen from the gigs that didn’t appear on the ’95 edition, but what is here is plenty great.
The accompanying DVD breaks out strong with black and white, heavily acoustic versions of “Love in Vain” and “The Spider and the Fly” (talk about digging deep in the catalog), but gradually loses steam with excess backstage footage, too many interrupted performances and interviews with Stones, their backing musicians and tour personnel, all rehashing what we already know; that small halls without pyrotechnics find the group at its best. Some priceless footage that shows the core group minus Charlie Watts singing “Tumbling Dice” in a dressing room huddled around Leavell’s piano as the only accompaniment is magnificent. It captures them at their loosest and clearly enjoying themselves.
The package is available in various formats but the five disc (4 DVDs or Blu-rays including the documentary and all three concerts plus CD and a 60 page book, which will set you back about $100 or more), would be the one most hardcore followers will want, just for the experience of watching these uninterrupted full sets.
In any configuration though, this is prime Rolling Stones, and while there may be better live recordings of the band, this finds these veterans in rare, if not exactly “totally stripped” form.