The Rolling Stones: Satisfaction in Concert
review by Kevin Harvey
Part One: Discs 1 and 2
So, right in the middle of pondering a book review about the death of the Rock Star, a four-disc collection of Stones’ recordings, television, radio, and concert, 1964 to 1966, arrives in a thin package with a gorgeous cover, the same photo on each disc, and I am forced to put everything aside before this extraordinary item goes up in collector’s smoke. The Rolling Stones: Satisfaction in Concert ‘s first disc, Star Spangled Airwaves, gives us performances from the Sullivan shows and two from Mike Douglas’ program that are mixed so beautifully- nuances blowing this old listener away- that are so good that I have to ask myself: Are these same shows I watched over 50 years ago? How do these recordings sound so damn good? Even the backup vocals are great. They were never great! But, it’s the second disc, recorded live in Paris and Hamburg that has me pounding the keys. The are both, to put it simply, the best live recordings of the Brian Jones era Stones I’ve ever heard. At the risk of alienating a large portion of one’s limited readership, they are better than ANY live record ever released by the band- with any line up. Songs you’ve heard in a thousand contexts crackle with shocking urgency; they are playing as hard as they can; it is all brand new; it is all timeless. The Stones, like any act that’s been around for a solid half century, will have diehard fans of a given period: its true of Elvis, Dylan, Zappa, the Beach Boys; there are even people for whom the Beatles peaked with Rubber Soul, who hate what they call that acid crap. I’ll try to position myself: When I love an artist, a writer, a painter, a band, a plate spinner, a tap dancer, I am at the very least interested in every phase of that artist’s career. Which is another way of saying I try not to let my favorite stuff get in the way of hearing that which is new. I love the pre-Satisfaction Stones; I saw them and they changed my life. I loved the Mick Taylor Stones, saw them pre-Altamont and again in 72. I went to the first Ron Wood tour, the one that included Mick riding a giant penis that didn’t really look like a giant penis. And I really liked some of it. Honest. The thrill was gone, but I really did like some it. I didn’t put the 64-65 LIVE Stones on this morning expecting too much; after all, it took The Beatles how long to clean up the Hollywood Bowl set? And then I heard the first two live concerts- the fourth disc is a radio broadcast from 1966 Hawaii and I haven’t even reached it yet. The first two discs are that good. If you loved the Stones, if, in particular, the early years, you MUST buy this set. I can put no price on it: Let’s say these four cheaply priced discs are invaluable, and give thanks that they got here on time. I’m going to put on the set three from the BBC, and then on to Hawaii. Hawaii? Why does that sound like a mistake? I’ll get back to you on that one. Aloha for now.
Part Two: Discs Three and Four
(Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite)
When I think about it, and, believe me, I do, the material that has been discovered, cleaned up, and released over the last couple of decades was worth waiting for. It might have blown all our minds, back then, to hear unreleased work from Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, The Stones; but, then again, it might not have. We were snobs in those days, as picky as the devotees who bitch and moan about added or missing details in the Star Wars saga: overrating some things, underrating others, quite possibly overreacting to all of it. Sticking for the moment to the Rolling Stones, time, ironically enough, has been very good to them. Great, hidden, music seemed to be finding its way out from nearly everyone, dead or alive, except the Stones. It may be that the odious music mobster Allen Klein had a lock on all the early stuff or that Mick refused to go nostalgic- or some combination of both. But now, nearly two decades deep in the century, early Stones performances are finding their way into the light. And they are wonderful. Cleaned up, crystal clear, the songs sound the way we always wanted them to sound: Jagger’s voice - shockingly different from the one we hear today - he was a different singer then and tricked us into missing the changes - is up front and passionate. They are young and they have much to prove. Keith’s guitar is looser, beautiful, meaningful. Show business and wealth have yet to creep up on them. Versions of Little Red Rooster vary from show to show; The Last Time shifts gears and intensity in unexpected ways; 19th Nervous Breakdown is killer, as is Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadow, crushed, proto-punk, scary. And the back - up vocals mystify! They were always weak, made weaker by the beautiful blend of the Beatles; but here, they are high and sweet! Who is singing? It doesn’t sound like a pre-ravaged Keith. Is it Bill and Brian, working together? No film exists to solve it for us. Charlie, introduced, thanks the audience in his laconic Buster Keaton growl; one can see him turning away to hide a half smile. Hell, he thinks I’m a Jazz drummer, but the bread is great. From the BBC tapes we get That’s How Strong My Love Is and Confessin’ the Blues and all the years without this material were imposed on us so that the impact, withheld, would live, finally, in a mix that matters most for those of us who waited. The fourth disc, the shortest of the four, is a radio broadcast from Honolulu, sloppy, weird, the muddy, murky Get Off My Cloud sounds radically different, faster, and yet….one watches them perform it in the mind’s eye and it works. A sped-up Breakdown follows, way too fast, the combined, re-arranged back-up vocals saving the day. Mick tells the audience how marvelous they are, and Satisfaction, again sped-up, starts tearing the building down. Cloud, Breakdown, and Satisfaction, songs that owe much to Dylan’s lyrical license, are truly dramatic. Satisfaction, sounding like the song it always threatened to be, a shaking fuzz-tone roar will morph over the years, much as Like a Rolling Stone would, into something different, something that one couldn’t quite hear, the way that one can’t hear Yesterday or Hey, Jude or tell if the singers care at all about the songs. They might, but they might not. Here, it is 1966 and The Stones are performing Satisfaction as if it matters a great deal to them. Years later, hired guns for billionaires, the Stones would play for The New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft, an unpleasant notion. A remark of Charlie’s saves the day: We started out playing weddings, he shrugs. On these four extraordinary, vital, discs, they sound like a band determined to never again play a fucking wedding, a band that guys like Robert Kraft would avoid in the years of 1964 to 1966.