Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones

I’ve loved The Rolling Stones since before I liked girls. That’s a lot of years and in all the times I’ve seen them, live or on film, I’ve never seen them as they were captured in 1972 in Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. I hate to toss around cheesy review words like “revelatory” or “stunning” but in this case the words fit. While it’s nothing very special cinematically, musically this is one of the all-time great concert films, documenting The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World at the peak of their powers as recording and performing giants. Even casual fans of the band owe it to themselves to see them as they are here in their prime.

Shown in limited theatrical engagements in 1974 (1973 in the UK) and few times since, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones finds the band touring at the climax of their most creative period which ran roughly from the Beggar’s Banquet album in ’68, through Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers in ’69 and ’71, to the epic double album Exile on Main St. in ’72. The tour itself slides into a perfect niche between the more stripped-down shows of the ’60s when the amps could barely overcome the roar of the crowd and the arena rock era when production design and light shows became as prominent as the music itself. Here the band is the focus and they’re at their lively and dangerous best.

Filmed simply and mostly in close-up with multiple 16mm cameras and un-enhanced stage lighting, Ladies and Gentlemen is no cinematic wonder. There are no IMAX cameras flying around the stage or swooping over the heads of an adoring middle-aged crowd, but they aren’t necessary. The Stones themselves provide all the energy the film needs. As much as I loved Shine a Light, the sheer power and vitality of The Stones’ performance here reveals Martin Scorsese’s film to be the museum-piece nostalgia act that it ultimately is. In 1972, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor weren’t pandering to aging baby boomers with a string of greatest hist. They were performing music alive with the here and now.

With the exception of the Chuck Berry cover Bye Bye Johnny – originally recorded by the band in 1964, its simplicity here sounding almost punk compared to the more layered and produced songs of the period – all the songs on the set list are from the aforementioned Banquet, Bleed, Fingers and Exile with the exception of Jumpin’ Jack Flash which was a single and didn’t appear on a non-greatest hits album. The most exquisite stretch of the set kicks in on the fourth number with the beautiful, laid back, country-fried Dead Flowers. Keith Richards then launches into his upbeat theme song Happy before the pace changes again with a bluesy version of Tumbling Dice that’s slowed down about half a beat in tempo giving it a nice boozy, good-time groove. After a devastating workout of the straight blues Love in Vain, Jagger finally gives a taste of what he can do with the harmonica in an amazing rendition of what might be my all time favorite Stones song, Sweet Virginia. If it’s not my favorite, it’s certainly the song I most want to hear when I have a bourbon in my hand and an old flame on my mind.

As amazing as that string of songs was – and I’m not just waxing hyperbolic when I say it nearly brought tears to my eyes – the highlight of the show was a number I’ve heard a dozen versions of yet have never heard quite like this. With Mick in a white jumpsuit and the stage bathed in a lurid red light, the band launched into a searing, intense and surprisingly sped up rendition of one of their darkest numbers, Midnight Rambler. The tempo gave it an urgency to counterpoint its underlying nastiness and made the spot near the end where the song almost lurches to a stop even more jarring. It’s an epic number fueled by anger and violence that always grabs you, but here it is a musical punch to the gut.

As a live act, The Rolling Stones of the ’70s weren’t exactly renowned for their tightness – at times they were downright sloppy – but here, in performances culled from four different shows in Fort Worth and Houston, they’re surprisingly sharp without destroying that loose, unpredictable bar band energy that makes them great. There are no back up singers, but the songs are filled out by the great Bobby Keys on saxophone, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Jim Price on horns. It’s a fuller sound than their earlier work, but most of the poppy gloss has been removed. This is rock and roll stripped down to its elemental blues and country roots and the band plays it with a confidence and a swagger that will blow you away. 35 years later, The Rolling Stones still entertain, but they’ve never sounded as vital as they do in this must-see concert film.

NOTE: This is a review of the film and the performance itself, not a review of the Blu-ray or DVD. I own the Blu-ray and it looks and sounds fine to my eyes and ears within the limitations of the original 40-year-old source, but the main draw here is the band in its prime kicking ass. Isn’t that enough?

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. USA 1974. Directed by Rollin Binzer. Cinematography by Bob Freeze, Steve Gebhart, Jay Cassidy and George Manupelli. Edited by Barbara Palmer. Starring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Jim Price, Bobby Keys and Nicky Hopkins. 1 hour 30 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA. 5 stars (out of 5)

4 Responses to “Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1974)”

  1. You’re not gonna quit movie reviewing and go write album reviews are you? I’d miss LiC but you have an equal knack for writing about music. Nicely done.

    I’m going to have to watch this now. I’m horribly unacquainted with most of their music (don’t think less of me!) but this sounds like a fun primer.

  2. I’m pretty well versed in The Rolling Stones from a lifetime of enjoyment, but I doubt I could muster the confidence for general music. They’re a particular passion of mine and this is a rare occasion when The Stones and movies collide and I can write about them.

    Have no worries!

    This might not be the best introduction to them. Or maybe it would be. I’m not sure. At the very least you should buy Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. and listen the hell out of them. And yet, even then you’ll only get a small aspect of a band that has gone through many phases in the last 45 years. It’s a good aspect though. I vouch for it.

  3. Excellently written little brother! I don’t think the Stones have recorded a tune I don’t like but, given a choice, pre-eighties will always get “first pick” on my “boom box”.

  4. It was YOUR album collection that turned me into a Stones junkie in the 4th grade, and it should be said you also took me to my first Stones concert in the bomb shelter known as The Kingdome. Maybe not the best place to see a concert but I fucking loved it.

    Best older brother a guy could have.

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