Ladies and Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones

The Stones are nothing if not marketers. You don’t need any more evidence than the well-constructed media campaign surrounding the Exile re-release.

Unfortunately, at this stage, their marketing prowess probably outpaces their prowess as a rock band. If they ramp up the touring machine again, it will be more a multimedia spectacle than a down-and-dirty rock show.

In 1973, it was something else entirely. We’ve got more proof now, thanks to the re-release of the final piece of Exile-era productions, “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones.”

This is a document of the Stones’ first American tour since Altamont, taken from shows in Texas to support Exile and originally release on the big screen. And it is the best concert film I’ve seen in years.

This was the perfect time to see the Stones. Utterly on top of their game, but before Jagger entered fully his Bowie-esque androgyny phase, their music lapsed into tangents of soul and disco and they added a second Keith, otherwise known as Ron Wood.

Things begin with an energetic “Brown Sugar,” into “Bitch.” Backed by the Exile horn section, they fall into the kind of groove you don’t hear very often–perfectly together, yet totally loose.

There are a few revelatory moments here: an up-tempo “Gimme Shelter,” sans backing vocals; a rollicking “Tumbling Dice”; a stripped-down “Can’t Always Get” leagues apart from the overwrought album version; and an extended jam on “Midnight Rambler” that would make Phish blush.

The biggest revelation, however, is none other than Mick Taylor, the yin to Keith’s yang and the man without whom the Stones have never been the same. Allowing Keith to concentrate on the rhythm work he does best, Taylor stands stone still, looking down at his strings the whole time, yet providing blistering, lyrical solos (“All Down the Line”)  and a real heartbreaker on “Love in Vain.”

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