Despite the fact that I’m a longtime Rolling Stones fan, or perhaps for that very reason, I’ve long resisted catching their stadium show whenever it rolls through Chicago, reckoning with a sniff that a Stones show had long since become a night of empty entertainment for boomer attorneys, their clients, their secretaries and the whole lot's kids. However, I couldn’t resist this concert picture filmed by Martin Scorsese and 18 of the foremost cinematographers in the world last year at New York’s Beacon Theatre. I simply had to see the Master shoot and cut his favorite band. After all, it was the Stones' music—its drama, its menace—that, reacting with the image, ignited some of the most thrilling moments of his cinema.
On the other hand, some would argue that Scorsese has arrived at a point in his career where the Stones have been for decades: producing work that, while still exciting, is but an echo of what they created at their peak. My critical instincts braced me to see a geriatric band go through the motions. But from the moment Keith Richards hits the opening riff to “Jumping Jack Flash”, it’s impossible not to be excited by this kinetic, exhilarating picture, and why try? The film is a celebration of energy sustained into the golden years by old favorites: the energy of the spinning, hip-shaking, charging, shimmying Mick Jagger—that most active of seniors—and the energy of Scorsese’s filmmaking, with its whip pans and zooms and flying camera, capturing that forever fascinating onstage dialectic between Keith’s cigarette-dangling, blasted, joyfully dissolute pirate and Mick’s approach to rock & roll as exuberant high-impact aerobic workout.
It’s not a connoisseur’s set-list the Stones play in this movie: there are no rarities, and the freshest tunes played are nearly 30 years old. Still, there’s something so satisfying about the sound that this film showcases: Charlie popping the snare, the nasty, snarling guitar interplay between Keith and Ronnie, Mick’s raw holler. I never tire of it. There are generous helpings of songs from 1978’s “Some Girls”, still one of their most fun-to-listen-to records. There are three special guests: young Jack White (who leads the White Stripes, one of today’s hottest bands) duets with Mick on the transcendent "Loving Cup"; it’s clear from White’s beatific expression that he loves this song as much as I do. Venerable Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy joins the band for an intense “Champagne and Reefer”. Christina Aguilera belts out “Live With Me” admirably, but her style brings things perilously close to “Stones night” on “American Idol”.
The Stones have been doing this for 46(!) years now; at their best, they were the best. So what if this show is not at the level of “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!”—of course it isn’t. But this is still a band that has some bite left. I remember reading an interview in the 80s in which Keith was asked about the skull ring he’s long worn. He replied that he wears the ring to remind himself that we’re all the same under the skin, and the fact of the mortality we all share is writ large on the deeply lined faces on the screen in this life-affirming picture. It’s the subtext of every show they play now. In the face of it, they’re still having fun, still gathering no moss. Here’s hoping to catch them on their 50th anniversary tour when it rolls through town…even if it means dodging boomer elbows.
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)
- Apr 26, 2008