For Stones fans, live album from 1973 illuminating, but not retrospective they crave
The Beatles long ago opened the vaults for their "Anthology." Neil Young's "Archives" series has mountains of material from his long career.
But for a Rolling Stones fan, archival blasts from the past have been frustratingly few. After their peak years, the aging bad boys were content to go on lengthy and lucrative tours, then release mediocre live albums from them — seven since the late 1970s — without looking to the past.
In the last couple of years, however, the goods are finally arriving.
In 2009, we got the seminal 1969 live album "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!", remastered and featuring a few new tracks.
In 2010, the Stones dug into perhaps their best album, "Exile on Main Street," and offered up a bonus disc of outtakes, some featuring new vocals and other touches.
Late this year came a new release of "Some Girls," the striking 1978 album that shook the band — temporarily, at least — from its studio doldrums. Again, there is a bonus disc of outtakes, cleaned up from the bootleg versions.
There are also three other recent under-the-radar offerings, and two of them might surpass the previous re-issues.
The concert film "Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones," featuring the band touring in support of "Exile" in 1972, is a fantastic document of the Stones at their peak. The sound and picture of the DVD are far from state of the art but the performances are first rate.
"Some Girls: Live in Texas '78," is a nice companion to the CD. As with "Ladies and Gentlemen," the camera infuriatingly rests almost exclusively on Mick Jagger, but it's an interesting document from a bare-bones Stones lineup.
But the most welcome is "Brussels Affair," a 1973 live album that has been bootlegged for decades. It was recently offered by Google Music for $4.99.
"Brussels" documents the end of an era. The show was one of Mick Taylor's last with the Stones, and saxophone player Bobby Keys was soon to be fired.
The band had been touring heavily and was ultra-tight. The crispness and power of this official release's sound is amazing.
Touring behind the mediocre "Goats Head Soup," with help from Billy Preston on keyboards and backup vocals, and a small horn section "we nicked from Stevie Wonder," Jagger said, the band slams out "Brown Sugar," "Gimme Shelter," "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy."
The recording hilariously segues from Jagger's introduction, first in French and then in English, to the real title of the infamous "Star Star."
Preston brings the funk for "Heartbreaker," much improved from "Goats Head Soup." "Dancing With Mr. D," a dud on the album, is dark and pulsing this night. Taylor never lets up, from the rockers to the ballads.
But the highlight is a live staple from all the way back to "Ya-Ya's."
"Midnight Rambler" goes from a furious pace to a creeping, creepy crawl and back to a locomotive again, with Taylor playing stinging, spectacular slide guitar and Keith Richards chunking out rhythm licks and answering Taylor's leads, both locked in perfectly.
Jagger has the crowd right with him, whispering and growling, screaming and howling. It's 12 minutes of hellacious rock that makes their title of "world's greatest rock and roll band" spot on — at least that night.
The album isn't perfect. By the end, "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man" come close to careening out of control.
Richards and Jagger are astounded by the band's power and speed that day.
Richards complimented Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts for keeping up: "I can't believe we're taking it at this clip," he chuckles in an interview done last year.
Google Music promises more live vintage Stones.
And how about some extras from "Let it Bleed"? The band could practically fill an album with the studio evolution of "Tumbling Dice."
You've got some catching up to do, guys.