Sunday, July 19, 2009

DVD Review - The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus

by Greg Bahr at:
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On December 11th, 1968, The Rolling Stones hosted a concert originally planned to be broadcast on the BBC. The event was based on Mick Jagger's idea to stage a rock and roll show interspersed with circus acts. Reportedly unhappy with their performance, the Stones shelved the project until the release of this DVD in 1996.

Jethro Tull leads off, obviously miming to a pre-recorded track of "Song For Jeffrey." Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi sits in as a favor to bandleader Ian Anderson.

The Who's next with a smashing rendition of "A Quick One While He's Away," a precursor to the epic rock opera "Tommy." John Entwistle's fingerstyle bass and Keith Moon's manic cymbal crashes act as an engine, while Pete Townshend drives the song with his trademark windmill power chords. The three harmonize behind Roger Daltry, who voices Townshend's comical tale of betrayal and forgiveness.

Blues giant Taj Mahal steps in with "Ain't That a Lot of Love," featuring Jesse Ed Davis' funky fretwork. Although at the time he was an unknown among a cast of luminaries, Taj more than held his own with spirited harmonica and soulful vocals. The extra features include "Checkin' Up On My Baby," "Leaving Trunk," and "Corrina," three more classics that catch a rising star at the inception of his illustrious career.

Pop star Marianne Faithful, who had a hit with a cover of the Stones' "As Tears Go By," serves as eye candy while singing "Something Better" sitting in the middle of the stage.

In a magical combination of musical brilliance, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell perform as The Dirty Mac, a supergroup formed for the occasion. On "Yer Blues," a tune from The Beatles' White Album, Richards' rolling bass and Mitchell's syncopated drumming provide a safety net, as Lennon and Clapton walk the high wire, weaving intertwined rhythm and lead guitar lines.

On "Whole Lotta Yoko," The Dirty Mac jams to a blues progression unfortunately marred by Yoko Ono's atonal screeching.

Then the main attraction, The Rolling Stones, launch into the show's centerpiece set with "Jumping Jack Flash." Keith Richards and Bill Wyman start the ceremonies with the song's iconic intro riff, as ringmaster Mick Jagger takes center stage. "Parachute Woman" follows, with Jagger wailing on harmonica.

Brian Jones, in his last live appearance with the Stones, layers shimmering slide over Richards' acoustic strumming on the bittersweet ballad, "No Expectations." Keith's open G tuned guitar and Nicky Hopkins' piano set the world weary mood, as professor Jagger teaches the captive classroom that "You Can't Always Get What You Want," a parable later told on "Let it Bleed."

With drummer Charlie Watts and conga player Rocky Dijon laying down a tribal beat, and Wyman's descending bass line creating a sense of impending doom, Richards' stinging leads permeate the evil atmosphere as Jagger requests "Sympathy for the Devil," a satanic samba from the menu of "Beggar's Banquet."

Sitting in the midst of the star studded audience, Jagger and Richards sing "Salt of the Earth," a set closing ode to the working class.

Despite the lame circus acts and silly costumes, "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" documents an unprecedented gathering of British rock royalty at the height of their powers, preserving for posterity a moment in time when rock and roll ruled the universe.

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