Few bands captivate the soul of rock ‘n’ roll like The Rolling Stones do. For over half a century, they’ve been playing their tunes to millions of fans across the globe. On March 25, The Rolling Stones made music history by being the first international band to perform in Havana, the capital of Cuba, since the United States first lifted its embargo sanctions on the country, marking a cultural milestone in bringing large-scale performances back to the people of Cuba. The Rolling Stones felt the show was so important that they recorded yet another live album and film to add to their repertoire — an already massive list of 12 — with impressive sonic flair, but lackluster filler for what’s expected of a live album.
With a length of two hours, Havana Moon is truly only for the most diehard fans without the accompanying video recording of the performance. Banter is kept to a minimum, and when it is included, it’s almost entirely spoken in Spanish, remaining true to the language of the country hosting the band. My minimal skills with the Spanish language created a hiccup in the personal connection that’s typically created by the banter in a live album, one I’m sure is felt by many attempting to enjoy the album to its fullest.
Despite the disconnected banter for English speakers, the music itself remains true to the spiritedness of rock ‘n’ roll, the unflinching desire to bang your head and sing along. At 73, it’s pretty damn incredible that Mick Jagger doesn’t fall flat in performance. With classics like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the setlist was primed for the essential electricity and nostalgia that Jagger delivers on all fronts.
A particularly well executed moment in the set is the transition from “Angie” to “Paint It Black.” The move from a light-hearted anthem to the dynamic guitar hooks of the iconic song perfectly display why The Rolling Stones have remained relevant all these years. They deliver what fans of rock ‘n’ roll want and need out of a concert, while maintaining the stage presence necessary to satisfy thousands of fans per show.
Outside of the music itself, Havana Moon offers little for a live album, and considering its length, it becomes an unnecessarily winded 18-track Stones playlist due to the cheering in between each song. It’s understandable that The Rolling Stones wanted to capture the historic concert, but as a standalone album without the visual performance, it simply lacks any compelling reason to pay much attention to it.
Havana Moon does a great job capturing the sonic energy of a Rolling Stones performance, but it lacks a reason for existence outside of being a soundtrack to the DVD recording. It’s just more efficient to copy the setlist onto a playlist than sit through two hours of an album with minimal additions to the flair that accompanies a rock ‘n’ roll concert. The historic prevalence has natural importance, but other than this context, Havana Moon lacks many facets that can make a live album great.