November 11, 2004

Licking for Dollars

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The Rolling Stones’ money machine is at it again, and there is no argument that they have come a long way since my father saw them for 25 cents in 1964. The gritty, ballsy band that was recorded live on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out in 1970 vanished long ago and has since evolved into one of today’s premier arena rock dinosaurs. Don’t get me wrong: The Stones newest release, Live Licks, is as fun and rocking as any compilation The Stones have organized, but at its heart, it does not attempt to add anything unique to The Rolling Stones’ muscular canon.

On Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, The Stones’ definitive live album, they are aggressive and grungy. Although some critics dismissed it as lazy, drug-addled sloppiness, their rawness helped to define The Rolling Stones as the foremost innovators of hard rock, and Ya-Ya’s showed just how beautiful reckless rebel-rock could be.

Live Licks is essentially a live greatest-hits album, and it does not disappoint as a collection of some of The Stones’ best known tracks. Unfortunately, the album fails to capture the force and energy that drives a Stones live performance and, in parts, appears watered down for the Stones’ aging audience (that’s you, Dad). The Stones have never been renowned for their improvisation, and the songs in this set, recorded during their massive “Licks” 2002/03 World Tour, do not stray from the original recorded versions.

Fortunately, The Rolling Stones’ greatest strengths are all still intact. Keith Richards can still make the guitar moan and wail and thrash (it must be the blood transfusions), and Mick Jagger’s voice is remarkably unscathed despite 40 years as one of rock’s most prolific front men. A possible deal with the Devil? Someone should investigate this. And thank God Ronnie Wood still remembers how to stand in the wings and give no reason for anyone to pay attention to him.

The first disc rocks, rolls and shakes its way through eleven of The Stones’ most vigorous and frantic songs. The crowd roars its approval time after time, and again, I’m forced to wonder how these old men are able to keep pace as they rip through “Street Fighting Man” and “Paint It Black.” It makes me think that maybe The Stones really aren’t striving for world domination and a monopoly of the entire music market. (Am I the only one who remembers their squashing of The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony”? And about those Coke commercials.) The best part of the album is on the second disc, when The Stones decided to expand into covers and other rare tracks. Solomon Burke, the legendary soul man, appears on “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and brings the temporarily silent crowd into roars of approval and ecstasy. The only thing that might have topped Burke’s appearance on this track would have been Jake and Elwood Blues flattening Ronnie Wood with a stolen police car onstage and jumping out to perform the song themselves. What is surprisingly lacking on the second disc is the crowd. What is a Rolling Stones’ show without the thousands of fans who know every word to every song? The answer is obviously a Milli Vanilli concert, and it is bizarre that the Stones include so many songs on the second disc that sound as if they are performing in a vacuum.

Overall, the double album is a worthwhile purchase for all Stones fans. There is a liveliness emanating from these tracks that hasn’t been seen since … well since Keith Richards realized that he was going to live forever and tried to sleep with Jagger. Of course, I have no proof of that incident; I seem to remember having seen something about it on VH1 once. But then again, maybe I just imagined the whole thing.

Archived article by Stan Feldman
Sun Contributor