Review: The Refrains Kept A’Rollin’ (All Night Long) for the Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones/Licked Live in NYC/ Rolling Stones-Mercury-Universal
Four out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Licked Live in NYC, recorded live at Madison Square Garden in January 2003, represented a milestone at the time, part of a world tour/victory lap that spawned 117 shows in celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary. It’s hardly surprising that they were still in top form; after all, the Stones are not only a well-oiled machine but a seemingly invincible one at that. What’s most impressive is that not only were they so formidable a full four decades on, but now, some two decades beyond that, they’re still as unstoppable as ever.

If one was to judge their dexterity simply on the strength of the set list—one that includes such timeless standards as “Street Fighting Man,” “Start Me Up,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It),” “Angie,” “Let It Bleed,” and—natch—“Satisfaction,” that becomes a foregone conclusion. Yet for all their upended insurgence, Mick and the lads are still a rather predictable bunch. One knows what to expect well before the lights go up and the band initially struts on stage. Consequently, despite a myriad of live albums released over the course of their career, there’s a consistency that begs few changes other than the venues and the dates any given concert was recorded. For the most part, save for the inclusion of a few newer songs, Licked Live in NYC and Get Yer Ya Yas Out (1970) have far more in common than the span of 32 years might suggest.

Of course, there are a handful of things that put a time stamp on the proceedings. Mick mentions the shows that were popular at the time—“The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and “Sex in the City,” and, when this concert was recorded, Charlie Watts and saxophonist Bobby Keys were still very much alive and integral to the lineup. Watts’ loss in particular adds a certain sadness in retrospect, but that said, the Stones have never been about nostalgia. Indeed, whether experiencing this 20-year-old concert via the two-CD/Blu-ray box set (which also includes three bonus tracks recorded live in Amsterdam, rehearsal footage, the “Tip of the Tongue” documentary, and added backstage footage) or simply the stand-alone two-CD set, the excitement, and enthusiasm of seeing the Stones serve up their hits is never diminished.

As always, of course, it’s all about attitude, which, once again, comes across through the stage patter, as per the introductions (Jagger to Wood: “Your hair looks fantastic, Richards to the audience in response to their rapturous applause: “Cut it out!”) and Jagger’s feigning a phone call in which he’s supposedly told his zipper’s down. There are also the occasional musical surprises as well—Sheryl Crow’s sassy, sizzling duet with Jagger on “Gimme Shelter” as well as a scant handful of rarities tossed into the mix, among them, Richards’ solo turn on the sobering “Thru and Thru,” a rarely performed track from Voodoo Lounge, released nearly a decade before.

Following on the immediate heels of Live At The El Mocambo, a historic set that digs further into the Stones’ archives, Licked Live in NYC could be considered yet another link to a legacy that continues to spin on far longer than anyone might have imagined, even a couple of dozen years after their initial bow. The fact that Mick and Keef are on the eve of turning 80 in only a couple of years and yet still as determined as ever to play the world’s stages is astounding in itself. If Licked Live offers evidence of their immortality, the fact that nearly 20 years later, these graying Glimmer Twins don’t find cause to quit is equally reassuring as well. 

Photo: Kevin Mazur

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