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Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Rolling Stones: Love You Live

THE ROLLING STONES: LOVE YOU LIVE (1977)

1) Fanfare For The Common Man; 2) Honky Tonk Women; 3) If You Can't Rock Me / Get Off Of My Cloud; 4) Happy; 5) Hot Stuff; 6) Star Star; 7) Tumbling Dice; 8) Fingerprint File; 9) You Gotta Move; 10) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 11) Mannish Boy; 12) Crackin' Up; 13) Little Red Rooster; 14) Around And Around; 15) It's Only Rock'n'Roll; 16) Brown Sugar; 17) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 18) Sympathy For The Devil.

Somehow, the Stones never got around to releasing a live album that would chronicle their «ripe» years with Taylor — there had been plans to document both the 1972 American tour and the 1973 European tour, but for some reasons, they never came to fruition at the time, much to the joy and profit of bootleggers worldwide. However, by the time that Ronnie finally became a full-time band member, Mick and Keith finally decided not to waste any more opportunities, and released this lavish, two-LP package, capturing the band in what was arguably its most garish and deca­dent state ever, right in the middle of the emerging punk-rock era. Oops!

For a long, long time, Love You Live was probably the most maligned live document from the Stones ever (Still Life got its share of jabs and kicks, too, but it was a smaller affair, and besides, by 1982 nobody really cared any more). Black And Blue, which was also heavily criticized upon release, may have been a harmless little jam session with sparks of creativity, but the same could hardly be said about the Stones' tours of 1975-76 — messy, chaotic, with Keith at the height of his drug dependence and Mick having completed the transformation into a total self-parody, jumping around the stage in half-clownish, half-homeless garb, struggling with giant inflated dicks and almost completely abstaining from singing in favor of a pseudo-drunken bark, because, you know, it's only rock'n'roll, and what sort of person wants singing at a rock'n'roll concert? Not in 1975 they don't — which, come to think of it, was the one thing that could link the man to the burgeoning punk aesthetics, but somehow it still did not.

Needless to say, Love You Live is no Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, and if you are as much of a fan of the latter album as I am, then it might take you a long, long time to even begin giving Love You Live its own chance. The first step in this procedure is a well known one, and it has to do with the alleged quarrel between Mick and Keith over which tracks to include on the record — Mick wanted it to be representative of their basic theater tours of America and Europe, whereas Keith was more sympathetic towards the occasional smaller gigs, most notably the small shows that the band had played at the El Mocambo Club in Toronto on March 4-5, 1977, right on the heels of Keith's latest and biggest drug bust. The result was a compromise that made the record look strange, but helped it save some face with the critics — the El Mocambo tracks were universally acknowledged as the album's saving grace, and sort of remain this way up to now.

The actual El Mocambo setlists consisted of a mix of Stones classics, new material from the last two albums, and several golden oldies, nostalgically carried over from the long gone days at the Crawdaddy — but it was only the latter that made it onto the album. Obviously, the combination of the small, sweaty, claustrophobic environment with the vintage spirit of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, and Chuck Berry (might as well call this the Stones' «Play Chess» expe­rience) is auspicious, even if Mick still tends to bark and growl in a fairly silly way, but if you are looking for a magical transformation of the 35-year old Stones into their 20-year old equivalents, do not get your hopes too high. Brian Jones is not there to turn ʽLittle Red Roosterʼ into a magic affair, and Keith is already beginning to mess up his formerly perfect Chuck Berry licks on a still energetic and fun, but slightly stuttering, version of ʽAround And Aroundʼ. In short, for all that this side has to offer in terms of excitement, it also offers an unfair comparison with the fresh young Stones at the height of their «interpretative» period.

For the other three sides of the LP, this is a non-issue, but, of course, those three sides have their own issues as well. A lot of the tracks comes from the infamous June 6, 1976 show at Les Abattoirs in Paris — the very night that Keith had learned of the sudden death of his infant son, yet went on playing all the same, and while I certainly do not blame him, he does sound kind of stiff on these tracks... come to think of it, he sounds a bit stiff on the other tracks as well, so chalk it all up to heroin rather than horror. He still manages to get a decent funky sound going on ʽHot Stuffʼ and ʽFingerprint Fileʼ, but without the sleazy vibe of the former and the sinister shade of the latter — and his Berry-style solos on ʽIt's Only Rock'n'Rollʼ and ʽStar Starʼ also take a beating, though not as much beating as Mick's singing (slurring? slurping?) on either. And while the song tempos have not yet been sped up as insanely as they would be on the 1981-82 tour, classics like ʽJumpin' Jack Flashʼ still suffer from sounding sloppy and rushed — even if this was the first tour on which the Stones had begun playing relatively lengthy sets that could accommodate both the contemporary material and the obligatory classics, both the classics and the new stuff were given the same, thoroughly inebriated, musical treatment.

Amazingly, the true saving grace of many of these performances is Ronnie — the new guy, who still had to prove himself with the band and spent most of the show standing relatively still and actually playing his guitar. In but a few short years, he'd be mastering the mach Schau! principle better than Keith, and with each subsequent tour, would invest more and more into his legs rather than his fingers — but in 1975-76, the man had to convince the fans that he was worthy of Mick Taylor's legacy, and several of his lead parts here truly save the day. There's a long, winding, climactic solo on ʽYou Can't Always Get What You Wantʼ, culminating in a shower of cheap thrills, uh, trills, that still sound exciting. There's an excellent take on ʽBrown Sugarʼ that, for this particular tour, was completely deprived of Bobby Keys' saxophone solo (Bobby actually sat this tour out due to his own substance abuse problems), and Wood plays an admirably fluent and melodic break, the likes of which you will never hear from the man again.

The record ends on a long and grand-sounding version of ʽSympathy For The Devilʼ, resurrected for the 1975 tour (and then buried again for a while) that is closer in spirit to the original than to the Ya-Ya's version, with Ollie Brown supplying the additional Latin percussion and Ronnie showing that he had actually carefully studied Keith's lines on Beggars Banquet — where on Ya-Ya's Keith and Mick Taylor held a competition between the two on who could nail the finest solo, here the emphasis is on weaving, and during the climactic coda Ronnie and Keith choke each other in a hysterical guitar barrage that even manages to drown out Mr. Jagger for a while. It is a completely different experience from 1970, but it has its benefits.

On the whole, as much as I «detest» this record in theory, I still give it a thumbs up. It is a pretty good reflection of what the Stones were about at the time — giving a great show despite all the odds. Never mind the corn, the drugs, the garb, the makeup, the chaos, the inflatable penis, Love You Live is all about giving you a good time through all that, because the kernel force of the band is still intact. The good news about the Stones live is that (a) until the 2010s at least, when old age really started showing, the Stones never gave a truly bad show, (b) until the 2000s at least, each new Stones tour brought on something new and fresh with it, (c) time heals all wounds, and what used to sound embarrassing and disappointing decades ago now sounds amusing and some­times even endearing. That said, unless you believe that all the best rock'n'roll is drunk rock'n'roll, period, you will probably have to symbolically wear out your digital copy of Ya Ya's fifty times before finding alternate solace in Mick's, Keith's, and Ronnie's antics at the height of their glam-rock period.

2 comments:

  1. Summer 1977 started so good with holidays in Greece. On the way back home I heard the news of Elvis' death. Didn't mean that much to me, but that was just the doomish (is that a word?) beginning. About one month later Gloria Jones drove the car with Marc Bolan in it against a tree and my first musical hero died - man, that was really hard. 3 days after that my granny died of cancer. Although it was an expected death it couldn't have been a worse timing. And about 2 weeks later I heard 'Love You Live' with a bunch of guys on a good and really loud stereo, and I can remember thinking of it being awful, awful crap. And I still think so, because to me it sounded and still sounds as if they didn't care. Okay, I liked and still like Side 3, but it felt like another loss, the magic was gone, something like that.
    I even tried again after reading your review, found Fanfare.../Honky Tonk Women on Youtube and was stunned about one of the first comments, stating it to be the - yes, of course - best live version ever or some drivel like that. Yeah, right...

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  2. I disagree about when The Stones went downhill live. Maybe it was a one-off, but I was at the "SARS benefit concert" in Toronto in 2003 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molson_Canadian_Rocks_for_Toronto) and it was a huge disappointment - over the top theatrics, Mick not really singing, instead leaving it to a backup choir and the occasional Justin Timberlake, brass outros lasting way longer than they should - so that it all seemed like they were banking on the crowd to be drunk, love the songs, and not worry too much about the bland histrionics of their actual performance. The most fun part was watching the audience throw water bottles at Timberlake. I felt bad for the guy, but it was still sadistically comical. AC/DC, who had just played beforehand, blew them away.
    -Jon

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