Review: The Rolling Stones Host A Mighty Beach Bash

The Rolling Stones/A Bigger Bang – Live on Copacabana Beach/Universal
Four Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Granted, the release of a new archival live album from the Rolling Stones isn’t the major milestone event it once was. After all, there have been several in recent years, all of which have documented some significant juncture in the band’s performing career, be it in Havana, Hyde Park or, on occasion, a pre-intimate locale. This latest arrival is no different, two CDs and a Blu-Ray which capture a free concert performed for an estimated million and a half people on Copacabana Beach, adjacent to Rio de Janeiro. Part of the 2006 “Bigger Bang” tour—at that time the largest grossing outing in history with a reported windfall of $558 million—it apparently dazzled the band itself, as Paul Sexton’s liner notes attest. It was, by any definition, epic.

Naturally, the set list is what one might expect. After all, fans would naturally be disappointed if standbys such as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” are overlooked. They’re all included here, but what makes this performance special is several unexpected entries as well, mostly in the form of songs that are either new to their repertoire or rarely shared at all—“Oh No, Not You Again,” “Rain Fall Down, “Night Time is the Right Time,” “This Place Is Empty,” and “Rough Justice.” Of course, there are those that will lament the fact that  any number of other chestnuts were omitted—“Paint It Black” and “Under My Thumb”— but hey, when you have a repertoire that spans nearly 60 years… well, the challenge of creating a set list that will satisfy everyone is near impossible to achieve.

Likewise, you have to credit the band not only wanting to avoid being a mere oldies act, while also showing willingness to rediscover an occasional gem like “Wild Horses” and “Get Off My Cloud.”

That said, the Stones have never exuded the polish and smooth edges some of their contemporaries strive for, like, say Paul McCartney or Jeff Lynne. (No we’re not counting Dylan in that bunch.) Jagger sings with what can only be described a slur— his delivery on “It’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll is a perfect example—while Keith’s vocal on his signature song “Happy” is, shall we say, as loose and unhinged as one might expect from the Human Riff. Then again, that’s part of the band’s charm, and as annoying as Mick’s continuing yelps become at times (read “Midnight Rambler”), give the man credit for making the effort to address the crowd in their native tongue.

So too, as always, kudos are due the group’s stalwart backing ensemble—bassist Darryl Jones (question: when will this guy get the full band frontline status he deserves?), keyboardist Chuck Leavell, late saxophonist and steady foil Bobby Keys and backing vocalists Blondie Chaplin, Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer chief among them—and the way they manage to keep the arrangements in check. On the other hand, older fans might remember when the Stones were a taut five-piece band and all the more spontaneous and incendiary as a result. 

Such is the benefit of nostalgia.

Taken in tandem, the blu-ray is the most effective way to soak up the full effect of the spectacle, the sweeping crowd shots and visual aspects of the Stones’ stage performance negating any need for critiquing the sound or arrangements. So best to start there, and then listen to the CDs after the full entirety of the concert has been realized. If you couldn’t have been there, this is the next best thing.

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