By 1971 The Rolling Stones were undoubtedly one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. The fact that they went from stealing milk bottles as young lads to augment their already meagre diet, to full-blown rock and roll superstars was in itself an extraordinary leap. And so it was, that following a string of mega-selling albums, they made the decision to decamp to the Continent, effectively exiling themselves in the process due to what they saw as England’s crippling tax system. But before they left its shores, the band embarked on a nine city tour across the UK, and their final concert, held at London’s Marquee Club was thankfully preserved and has now been issued as part of the ongoing and excellent ‘From the Vault’ series. This means that you can now finally toss away that shoddy sounding bootleg.
Originally the show was taped with the intention of broadcasting it as a Television special for the US, but as with a lot of these projects (Rock and Roll Circus being one of them), it got shelved at the band’s bequest, who thought their performance wasn’t quite up to their usual standard (whatever that meant).
The Stones kick things off with an energised “Live With Me” from Let It Bleed. Here the group are in fine form, and are augmented by Ian Stewart on piano plus Jim Price and Bobby Keys on horns, giving the song a richer, funkier flavour. The country inspired “Dead Flowers”, off the soon to be issued Sticky Fingers album, is next, and features some outstanding guitar work by Mick Taylor, who by now had unwittingly taken the band to a whole new level of musicianship, something that had not before been possible with Brian Jones. “I Got the Blues” is another Sticky Fingers track, where Mick Jagger gets all Otis Redding on us, while Bobby Keys blows on the tenor sax, adding an extra dimension to the group’s sound.
Keith Richards’ love of Chuck Berry was well-known, someone who is probably to Keith what Robert Johnson is to Eric Clapton. As they had done on their 1969 tour, this time they chose to include a cover of Berry’s “Let It Rock”, reminding the listener of just how important his music was in helping to shape The Stones development in their earlier, more formative years.
Now if anyone thought that their version of “Midnight Rambler” on the Get Your Ya-Yahs Out LP was impressive, get ready to be impressed even further. Not only is the sound clearer and more vibrant, but the band are in full swing. Mick Jagger is in particularly fine vocal form, transforming himself into a mean harmonica machine as well in the process, while Mick Taylor plays some fluid, yet nasty notes. Keith crunches away on his Telecaster, keeping the whole thing anchored to the earth, hoping that the drugs he took before the show won’t wear off half way through the song (or at least that’s how he appears on the DVD).
The adrenalin continues with an exciting rendition of “Satisfaction”, including horns, followed by a dynamic and highly combustible “Bitch”, the fourth song off Sticky Fingers performed on this night. Both Keith and Mick Taylor complement each other superbly. Richards’ rough as bags riffing might be in complete contrast to Taylor’s own far more professional liquid phrasing, but in my mind this some of the best music the Stones would ever record, during one of their best periods ever.
Apart from Eric Clapton and those in the Stones’ inner circle, nobody else in the audience would have ever heard the raunchy, sexually charged “Brown Sugar”, since the single’s release was at least another month away. Naturally everyone’s familiar with the song today, but imagine what was going through people’s minds back then? It’s certainly a rousing way to end what must have been an exciting night for all. The fact that The Rolling Stones were able to play in such an intimate setting as The Marquee indicates just how far the band have come and the extent to which the world has changed. Nowadays neither Jagger nor Richards would get out of bed for less than a hundred grand, which makes this film and its companion album an absolute treasure to watch and hear. That the band has taken this long to release it is astonishing to say the least. Maybe someone flashed a few dollar signs at Mick in order to convince him of its merits, or perhaps he’s simply getting soft in his old age.
This would turn out to be The Rolling Stones last performance in England for two years, during which time they’d go on to record (in southern France of all places), their undisputed masterpiece, the debauched and dilapidated Exile On Main Street.
So, crank up that old Marantz, pour a glass of your favourite poison, break out that old pair of flared pants, and imagine that you are in 1971 London, rocking out and getting down without having to put a dent in the mortgage and one required the Hubble Space Telescope to actually see them from the back of the stadium.
Now as a final note, if you hear someone say “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he?” No he wasn’t. He was great.