Judge Clark Douglas can't always get what he wants. When he tries sometimes, he gets punched in the face.
"Sorry that Stevie Wonder couldn't be here, folks."
The year is 1972. The Rolling Stones have just released their legendary double album Exile on Main Street to critical acclaim and are currently at the height of their stardom. The film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones offers us an energetic look at the band in the middle of their North American Tour, as they perform tunes from not only Exile but also Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed, and Beggars Banquet. The film was given a limited release in 1974 and generated positive word-of-mouth from those who actually got a chance to see it. Unfortunately, the concert has been unavailable for quite a long time, never actually receiving an official DVD or Blu-ray release…until now. Fans of the band can finally set aside their crappy bootleg discs and enjoy this release from Eagle Rock Entertainment, which boasts remastered picture and sound.
The performances are a little on the rough side (this is The Rolling Stones we're talking about, after all), but the feverish energy level of the band more than compensates. Martin Scorsese's concert film Rolling Stones: Shine a Light benefits from slicker performances, fantastic audio and a genuinely cinematic sense of visual style, but all of that can't hide the fact that it spotlights the aging, polite, slightly underwhelming modern version of the Rolling Stones. For all of its flaws, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones presents the band at their most electric, with Jagger at his junkie-athlete best.
The concert kicks off with a stellar performance of the classic "Brown Sugar" before giving way to a slightly incoherent take on "Bitch." "Gimme Shelter" is given an exceptionally enthusiastic performance, but what really impresses is the infectious performance of "Dead Flowers" (a song not typically included in Rolling Stones sets at the time). Jagger and Richards seem to genuinely enjoy the chance to tear into this one, grinning at each other constantly as they go. The film's presentation of "Happy" is noteworthy for its tendency to randomly zoom in on the crotches of the band member (Richards' pants are particularly, uh, revealing), while "Tumbling Dance" gets a smooth, steady arrangement.
Things finally slow down with an appealingly soulful performance of the bluesy "Love in Vain," while the delightful, folksy "Sweet Virginia" rolls along at a similarly relaxed pace. Jagger belts out "You Can't Always Get What You Want" well enough, but I found the performance considerably less effective than the album version. Things start rocking hard again with a blustery performance of "All Down the Line" and a punchy take on "Midnight Rambler." The Stones' version of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" is a little limp, but this similarly Berry-esque "Rip This Joint" gets the job done nicely (oddly enough, before the performance of the latter song Jagger informs the audience that they've been, "sitting on your asses long enough"—I'd be amazed if people weren't up and dancing for the previous three numbers). The concert concludes with blazing performance of two megahits: "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man."
Typical of concert films of the era, the image tends to be pretty dark (sometimes fading into the near-incomprehensible murkiness ala D.A. Pennebaker's David Bowie concert flick Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) and grimy, but it must be said that it looks as good as it's ever going to. The 1080p/1.85:1 transfer suffers from many scratches and flecks, the image is quite soft and there's a great deal of black crush…but again, one has to consider that we're dealing with pretty rough source material and it's been dramatically cleaned up from where it was. Audio is a bit better, if somewhat muddy at times. The songs place an emphasis on Mick's vocals, mixing in a generous portion of crowd noise throughout. It's not a perfect track, but it's enthusiastic and clean enough to prove satisfying.
The extras kick off with a brief rehearsal set, in which the band offers performances of "Shake Your Hips," "Tumbling Dice" and "Blueberry Jam." You also get a 5-minute archival interview with Jagger, and (even better) a 10-minute brand-new interview with the singer/songwriter. Jagger seems particularly enthusiastic about the film and the fact that it's now been cleaned up.
While The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter and Shine a Light are both considerably more acclaimed and well-regarded concert flicks, no film offers a better representation of the band at the top of their game than Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. It's a bit on the messy side for the casual viewer, but genuine Stones fans need to have this in the collection.
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