Review: A Historic Concert Finds The Rolling Stones Rocking with Resolve

Rolling Stones/Live At The El Mocambo/UME
Four Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

When, on March 4 and 5 1977, the Cockroaches—A.K.A. The Rolling Stones—turned up unexpectedly for a surprise gig at Toronto’s legendary club, The El Mocambo, as a warm-up for an impending North American tour, it proved to be one of those momentous occasions that would resonate in music history. On each of those two nights, 300 unsuspecting fans crammed into the club’s intimate environs to see a once-in-a-lifetime gig by the biggest band in the world. 

Now, 45 years later, the event still qualifies as the stuff that legends are spawned from, not to mention, one of the most talked-about shows in the Stones’ sprawling 60-year history. Naturally, with much to gain and little to lose, they culled the material from a special setlist, one that included then-current material as well as a number of seminal standards that had rarely been played since early on— “Worried Life Blues,” “Manish Boy, “Crackin’ Up and “Little Red Rooster.” Naturally, their own standards were included as well—“Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Honky Tonk Women” (although oddly, “Satisfaction” was omitted). In a very real sense, the performance found the band returning to their roots.  It found them situated in a setting similar to their early residency at London’s sweaty Crawdaddy Club. However more specifically, it allowed them to display the verve and variety that was often lacking in their current arena-sized environs.

Consequently, Stones fans will likely consider Live At The El Mocambo an indispensable acquisition, given that it captures the entire landmark performance from March 5, along with three bonus tracks culled from the concert the band played the night before.

Naturally, the band was in fine form—ragged, raucous, and yet perfectly primed. After all, it coincided with the period when punk was at its peak, making any polished perfection seem somewhat out of sync to begin with. The Stones had no need to feel part of the competition; after all, they helped initiate the form a full decade and a half earlier. As a result, Jagger’s strut and swagger, along with Glimmer Twin  Richards’ relentless riffing, sometimes come across as off-handed but the concert is anything but cursory. The stoic rhythms provided by Watts and Wyman keep the foundation intact, while Ron Wood, still “the new guy” a mere two years on in his tenure, fleshes out the arrangements over which the band’s two frontmen are able to rock with their resolve.

With nearly two dozen songs spread across the two CDs, Live At The El Mocambo showcases the essential Stones as few of their live albums have managed to do either before or since. It is, in short, stunning evidence of the band at its best.

Photo by Helmut Newton / Rogers and Cowan

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