It would be easy to dismiss the Rolling Stones’ recent one-two punch of releases as mere attempts of an aging rock band to capitalize on its success by creating a new product out of its existing catalogue. However, the band’s new record, Shine a Light, and its accompanying documentary by the same name are not so easily categorized. That means fans will get a kick out of the tight performances, rocking energy level, brilliant performances from great guest stars and songs that have never before been performed live by the band.
The soundtrack is a lot of fun, has a great sound and shows off a band that is tight but doesn’t have the mechanized, just-going-through-the-motions feel of previous live albums like Flashpoint and Still Life. The band escapes falling into this rut by digging deep into its vast catalogue. It comes up with some gems and presents a rocking version of “She Was Hot” and a brilliant version of “As Tears Go By,” among other rarely played songs.
The soundtrack is not as perfunctory as one would expect; even warhorse numbers like “Brown Sugar,” “Start Me Up” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are fun and do not dominate the set list, letting numbers that haven’t been in the set list since the ’60s or ’70s keep things from feeling dated. And, little tricks like letting you hear the audience really getting into it help songs like “Start Me Up” really pop. There is more than smart mixing and a sagely picked set list to the album. There is a 30-second coda to “Satisfaction,” where the band breaks into a heavy, new jam, which sounds like something sprung from the Mick Taylor era.
The guests also help keep the energy high by delivering great performances; one standout is Christina Aguilera, who shows no fear in doing her best to out-work Mick Jagger on his own stage – something which really gets the band, and Mick in particular, going in high gear.
Keith, Ronnie, Charlie and Mick are all on top of their game. The band sounds like it is having fun throughout the album, and it really comes alive when Buddy Guy joins it for “Champagne & Reefer,” as Mick grabs the harmonica and the four of them do the blues loud and dirty. But this song is also one of the best examples of how the movie can make the songs on the soundtrack shine, as the audience gets to see Keith circling Buddy during one of Guy’s solos, Ronnie jumping back like he is literally blown away when Guy first rips into his guitar and Guy impersonating Keith by swinging and tugging at his guitar.
The movie is excellently filmed, but what else would we expect from Martin Scorsese? The ads and trailers for the movie really don’t do it justice. Scorsese intersperses footage from two of the Stones’ recent performances at the Beacon Theater, with excerpts from old interviews with the Stones – a combination that paints a wonderful picture of a band whose members don’t realize that they aren’t 23 years old anymore.
It’s that last item that will make or break the film for you, as I expect popular opinion will be divided into the “really enjoyed it” or “couldn’t get over the fact I paid money to see a senior citizen prance” camps. The movie is really enjoyable because Scorsese does a brilliant job of connecting the audience with the performers. From the clip that shows a young Jagger saying he’s confident that the Stones will have at least one more year of work, to the wonderfully done clips spliced into “Connection,” which show the wrinkled Richards’ undying love for what he does, the film really brings you to the stage.
However, when the stage is dominated by 60-year-old former drug abusers, it may be a bit too close for comfort for those who are not more than a casual fan. Fans will be able to see a band who has not yet realized they are over 30 and revel in Mick’s energy, the way Keith loves to stop playing for a second to put his elbow on Ronnie’s shoulder and talk to him, Charlie’s unending professionalism and consistency, or the look of approval and relief Ronnie gives Mick once Jagger finishes his first number with an electric guitar.
On the other hand, those who are not fans may not be able to appreciate seeing 60-year-old man tits courtesy of Sir Jagger, wrinkled faces – especially during Keith’s two numbers – and a good amount of a certain knight’s bellybutton. The idea is that all of that is supposed to be fine because if the Stones were magically given younger bodies, then you wouldn’t be distracted from their kick-ass performance. The band looks the best when you see it from behind, when you can’t see the wrinkled faces but you can still see all of the energy; Jagger, especially, still moves like he’s on the ’72 tour.
Those who find it refreshing to see great rock ‘n’ rollers, no matter their age, at the top of their game, running around like they are still looking forward to their 30th birthday will love the documentary.
Soundtrack: 3 1/2 stars
Movie: 4 stars