Some time between the 1970s and today, the Rolling Stones transformed from rock legends to walking punch lines in the eyes of many. Late-night talk show hosts love to laugh at wrinkly old Mick Jagger and company every time they embark on another tour, as though they’ve lost their right to play fantastic music in front of sell-out crowds of adoring fans.
Thank Lucifer, then, for Martin Scorsese. The director of crime epics and music documentaries like “The Last Waltz” and “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,” filmed two Stones shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City on their 2006 “A Bigger Bang” tour for his new film “Shine a Light.” The end product is a rapturous celebration of the four men who personify rock.
The film opens with a brief segment of the concert preparations, including an appearance by the Clintons. Then, when the Stones launch into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the picture blows up to cover the entire IMAX screen and suddenly the theater explodes with energy. Right from the opening number, these guys make it clear they will not be treated like rock museum relics. Jagger struts and stomps around the stage, waving his arms like a maniac and baring his midriff at every opportunity. Keith Richards puffs giant clouds of smoke on his cigarette while his guitar seems to shred itself. Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts are also in fine form.
Perhaps it’s all the unfair criticism that has given the Stones new vigor, but they sound fantastic throughout the whole show. They breathe new life into hits like “Just My Imagination” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” but also make a strong case for less mainstream gems like “She Was Hot” and “All Down the Line.” Guest performers pop up sporadically as well. It’s fun to see former Detroiter Jack White clearly humbled as he and Jagger duet on “Loving Cup.” And while she initially seems out of place, Christina Aguilera turns in a surprisingly soulful performance on “Live With Me.”
But the real stars are the Stones themselves, who make it clear they will not go gently into that good night. Sure, the backup band and vocalists do most of the hard work music-wise, but no one would care about this show at all if it were not for the delirious on-stage antics of Jagger and Richards. (Wood and Watts, as usual, are content to stand back and watch their bandmates in bemusement.) Scorsese’s cameras capture every devilish grin on their faces and every dramatic pose they flash for the cell phone photographers.
In a brief archival interview from the band’s early years, Jagger is asked if he can picture himself still playing music in his sixties. Instead of giving the expected response of “no way, man,” he says that he absolutely could. He knows that this is what he was put on this earth to do. The Stones were born rocking, and they will die rocking. Anyone who thinks they should retire clearly wasn’t listening: Once you start them up, they never stop.
Shine a light
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars