For two days in December 1968, The Rolling Stones reminded
everyone in London that they were the hippest band in the world.
Sure, the idea of an enormous Rock and Roll Circus featuring
trapeze artists, fire-eaters, clowns and art-rock bands no one had
yet heard of is over-the-top. Only The Stones could pull off such a
spectacle, and with sure hands and roaring guitars, they did.
With the release of their latest DVD, viewers are given a look
back at this seminal concert. The idea for a Rock and Roll Circus
was born out of conversations between The Who’s Pete
Townshend and The Stones’ lead singer Mick Jagger. The
original idea had The Stones, The Who and Rod Stewart and The Faces
traveling throughout America on trains, playing shows under the big
top. For various logistical reasons, this became impossible.
Jagger, Townshend says on the DVD, kept this extravagant idea alive
by filming a whole concert for a TV special.
The concert is worth watching for its lineup alone. Among the
big names, a few more obscure bands of the era are featured, namely
Jethro Tull and Taj Mahal. Tull performed for nearly a full year
before he had any official releases, while Taj Mahal also played
only after suggesting it himself to Jagger and Keith Richards at a
nightclub in Los Angeles. When The Who play their seminal “A
Quick One While He’s Away,” drummer Keith Moon is so
soaked in sweat by the end of the song that each beat is marked by
an explosion of moisture off of his glistening body.
Marianne Faithful’s presence at the concert is significant
for many reasons. Clad in a perfectly fitted dress, and looking
angelic while lounging on the floor, her performance of the classic
“Something Better,” is a highlight of the show.
What’s more, later in the performance, as Jagger passionately
belts out the intro to “You Can’t Always Get What You
Want,” he is clearly singing both to and about her.
The most historically important song performed is “Yer
Blues,” orchestrated by the most-super-of-super-groups, The
Dirty Mac. This one-time amalgamation of rock legends featured John
Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell. In spite
of the fact that Lennon’s delivery is droning,
Clapton’s solo work is uninspired, and Richards seems
uninterested on bass; watching these musicians work together is
fascinating and exciting. Any perceived indifference takes a back
seat to the unparalleled talent they are so well known for.
The quality of the transfer is acceptable, with the graininess
of the 16 millimeter stock adding to the nostalgia. The sound,
however, leaves something to be desired. Although crisp and
listenable, there is something lacking in the volume department.
For some reason, even with the TV turned all the way up, the
loudness of these bands is never really captured.
The extra features are exciting, with extra tracks by Taj Mahal
and a nifty split screen recording of The Dirty Mac’s song.
As for the commentary, the most interesting is that of Marianne
Faithful, who successfully drove the point home that on the
’60s London rock scene, everyone was friends with everyone.
John Lennon and Mick Jagger actually did hang out. On David
Dalton’s commentary, he points out that The Stones were the
darlings of the London “Hipoisie,” since the release of
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had made
The Beatles decidedly un-hip.
The main purpose of this concert, however, was to highlight The
Rolling Stones. The way this spectacle was filmed, however,
didn’t allow them to perform until 4 a.m. The crowd is no
longer into it, and even the band looks tired. All that aside, the
songs “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Parachute
Woman” and “Salt of the Earth” are spectacularly
performed. Jagger is sharp and bright with his singing, and his
movement is seductively serpentine. Rumors persist that the reason
this concert wasn’t released for 30 years is because Jagger
was dissatisfied with his own performance. It is hard to see how
this is possible.
When taken into context, this concert’s importance is
unparalleled, as it serves as a time capsule into a time when
“cool” was much cooler than it has ever been. It is fun
to watch, the music is excellent and the enormity of the entire
undertaking will not be lost on any viewers.
Movie: 4 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 3 out of 5 stars
Special Features: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars