Ladies and Gentlemen: the Rolling Stones (1973)

I think I’ve always been a little perplexed by the rock concert film, or at least by the rock concert film made for theatrical showing. Something about it seems like an unhappy compromise, watching a performance in a group situation without being able to actually attend the performance itself. Maybe it’s just because I’ve grown up in the home video age, but the small screen seems like a more natural home for the concert film; like the live album, it’s a souvenir of the event for home consumption. Still, back in the pre-video age people obviously thought otherwise, cos there were plenty of theatrically-released examples of the form in the 70s, this being merely one of many… at that time the Stones had just said no to releasing the infamous Cocksucker Blues, which was filmed on the same tour as this, and this was put out instead (the drugs were cunningly left out of this one)… I’ve read, too, that Robert Frank had no interest in the actual live performance so he gave the job of filming that to others, and it was this mass of delegated footage that was turned into the released L&G film. Except it disappeared into a similar void to Frank’s film after that, unseen apart from an Australian VHS release in the 80s until the new DVD.

In the new accompanying interview Jagger says something about how you can now see what’s going on in the film, which is amusing but also points up something notable about the performance, namely how comparatively low-tech it is in terms of production values. No props until the end (a few bowls of rose petals or something like that), unspectacular lighting, just a band on stage… and a band in pretty good form at the time; I have to say I’ve always been a Beatles man more than a Stones man, but once the Fabs were out of contention Mick & co. made a fair bash at actually being the greatest rock’n’roll band on Earth. In this film they’re not just going through the motions yet, Jagger’s not old enough to just look kind of grotesque doing all that strutting, Keef is only just starting to turn into himself (if you know what I mean), other Mick doesn’t do much as far as on-stage presence goes but plays shit-hot leads when necessary… I particularly liked that the film didn’t conceal the fact that it comes from multiple shows, too, it’s not one of those concert films that tries to disguise the fact it wasn’t all shot at the same show. If somewhat low on stagecraft (and filmed in not overly flashy style), L&G delivers on the musical front, and makes that its argument for the band’s “greatest” status. If they couldn’t live up to that reputation for much longer after this, the film demonstrates they were once capable of doing so with some aplomb. Maybe they shouldn’t have kept it out of sight for so long…

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