Saturday, April 5, 2008

These guys are old, but they totally rock

That was Gina's comment this evening after she and I saw "Shine a Light," the amazing new Rolling Stones concert movie by director Martin Scorsese. Aside from being a perfect capsule review of the film, Gina's line, as Michelle noted later, was the dream response from a teenage daughter.

Wow, imagine: My kid thinks it's possible, theoretically anyway, for old guys to be cool!

It's hard to believe the Rolling Stones are in their mid-60s now, that they've been at this for 45 years-plus, and that they still rock so hard. Especially when you consider how much damage they've done to their bodies over the years.

Scorsese's genius technique in this movie, as it was in "The Last Waltz," his 1978 film about The Band's farewell concert, is to get the cameras right up on stage, so you have an experience you couldn't get even from the front row of the audience. With multiple angles and near-constant camera movement, you're right there for every Mick Jagger strut, Keith Richards vamp, Ronnie Woods burning guitar solo and Charlie Watts steady but effective drumbeat. And more -- backup singers, a soulful horn section and, from time to time, Scorsese's jittery instructions to his crew.

Jagger looks great at 62 (his age when this New York concert was filmed two years ago). His deeply lined face and slightly deflated lips are the only hints to his age. Everything else -- his hair, clothes, physique and, especially, his on-stage energy -- looks like classic Mick from 30 or 40 years ago.

At one point the concert footage pauses for a flashback to an early Jagger TV interview. It must have been 1964 or 1965; Mick doesn't look to be much more than a teenager and he says something about the band having been together for two years. How long would they keep playing, he is asked. Actually, he says, he's surprised they've lasted this long. Maybe they've got another year left in them.

The quick cut back to the Beacon Theater show, 40 years later, provides the real answer.

Richards, looking like he just escaped from a nursing home for old pirates, lays down his signature hooks and brilliantly minimalist guitar riffs, and he trades knowing looks and accomplished solo lines with Woods. In another cutaway interview Woods and Richards playfully spar about who's the better guitar player. The truth, Richards says finally, is that neither of them alone is very good, but "put us together and we're better than any 10 other players."

Hyperbole? I don't know. They're pretty damn good. Jack White, of the White Stripes, no slouch guitarist himself, comes on to play one song with the band. He can barely hide his glee. I'm onstage with the Rolling Stones! A bit later the legendary blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy comes out for a tune ("Champagne and Reefer," one of highlights of the show). This time the admiration is on the other foot. Though older than the Stones, Guy looks younger, plays with every bit as much vigor and, you can tell, is a longtime idol of the band. Mick and Keith especially look thrilled to be in his presence.

The music in the film is rhapsodic if you're a Stones fan, but, as Gina's experience testifies, effective even if you're not. The 1978 album "Some Girls" is heavily represented, and there are plenty of the older big hits: "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Brown Sugar" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" among them.

Watching, I was struck by how simple many of the Stones' songs are: a catchy hook and some straightforward, even shallow, lyrics, all laid over basic blues-based chord changes. The magic lies in some spectacular solo work, the warm interplay among the band members and, especially, the power and vitality Jagger brings to the show as singer, dancer and all-around circus master.

These last two elements particularly are at the heart of Scorsese's movie, and its greatest accomplishment. It puts you there in the middle of the band and the show. As one of the tunes goes: "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Woo!" 4 gliomas.

(Gina and I saw the film in the super-size IMAX format, which makes the on-stage feeling even stronger, but it's also playing in regular theaters.)

Here's the trailer for "Shine a Light," followed by a 1969 performance of "Honky Tonk Woman" for the sake of comparison.


kateco said...

I recently saw Gimme Shelter again. I had forgotten how creepy that movie, and really the whole on the road life of the band, was.

I saw the Stones in the 80s at the Superdome. Michelle weren't you there too?

Loved The Last Waltz, of course. Probably won't see this one in the theater, but it sounds like will dazzle on Blu-Ray. (Have I mentioned that the playstation with the blu-ray player built it is THE BOMB?)

Thanks for the nice (as usual) review! Can't wait to show you the awsome TV/playstation set up in person. Hurry on down here!

kateco said...

PS Gina's discernment bodes well.

Mark said...

Kaye, that's funny. I almost predicted, based on your Springsteen comment, that you would mention having been at the Stones' Exile on Main Street tour and, thanks to Laurie's cool sister, sat in the fifth row or danced with Mick or something.

I don't know. I just read a scathing review of this movie by Bill Wyman, who used to write for me back in the day in San Francisco. He panned the hell out of it, making me feel -- like I often did while editing his stuff -- that I am hopelessly out of it and will never be able to run with the cool kids.

Then again Wyman's the guy who told me I was an idiot for liking Paul Simon's "Graceland" album, which he hated and which, I still think, has held up pretty well.


Jim Thomsen said...

I haven't yet seen this, but will. I think the IMAX movie is the best of the Stones' documentary output up to this point. But I'm a "Last Waltz" fan, so this could be even better.

Top five Stones non-single album tracks, anyone?


1. "Moonlight Mile"
2. "Shattered"
3. "Neighbors"
4. "Sister Morphine"
5. "When The Whip Comes Down"

Jason Bellamy said...

Mark: Finally finished my review of "Shine A Light," which meant I could finally allow myself to read all of yours. Well done. Loved the line about the retirement home for pirates. Terrific image (and so true for Richards).

You'll see that I have some gripes with the presentation of the concert, but certainly not with the concert itself. I'll have to check out the Wyman piece.

Meantime, in addition to the great performance with Buddy Guy, I loved "As Tears Go By," with Richards on a plugged-in 12-string. And the performance of "Paint It Black" on the soundtrack makes me really wish it had been included in the movie.

Your assessment that so many of the Stones' songs are simplistic is right on. Truth is, I've always thought so, which is one of the reasons they've never much grabbed me. But live there's a spirit to the Stones that lifts me beyond the lyrics. Great stuff, and I didn't even get to see it in IMAX. Lucky you.