DVD Review of:
‘VOODOO LOUNGE UNCUT’
by THE ROLLING STONES
(2018 DVD, EAGLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT)
There was tacit agreement during the Sixties that the Rolling Stones could never be the world’s biggest band while the Beatles were still around. Hence all they had to do was outlast the Fab Four, then they’d assume the position by default. The strategy was seriously shaken by the loss of Brian Jones, although his death happened during their greatest ever run of albums – from ‘Beggars Banquet’ to ‘Exile On Main Street‘. But, as the seventies took hold, with Mick Taylor gone and Ronnie Wood still finding his feet through some decidedly dodgy albums, there were newer and bigger bands around, like Led Zeppelin, then Guns ‘n’ Roses. Although Punk sent shockwaves through Rock it helped the Stones reconnect with their unwashed-bratty origins to result in a renewed run of fine albums from ‘Some Girls’ to ‘Undercover’. Although “Undercover Of The Night” was no more a political protest than “Brown Sugar” was anti-slavery. But meanwhile, there were other stadium-filling contenders, U2 and REM.
‘Voodoo Lounge’, the Stones’ twentieth album in July 1994, was in many ways their final mainstream shot for relevance, while they still considered themselves contenders. It was their first since Bill Wyman stepped down, their first through a crafty Virgin-records hook-up, and with Don Was co-producing with the Glimmer Twins. The seedy-moody lead single, “Love Is Strong” was gifted with a powerful high-profile monochrome MTV-video directed by David Fincher, with a giant Keith Richards striding above New York City wielding his guitar. The ‘sadly romantic’ “Out Of Tears” is a keyboard-led Jagger-weepy at its best. While “New Faces”, with its harpsichord echo back to “Lady Jane”, seems a knowing recognition of the Stones longevity, as Jagger ruefully watches the ‘slip of a youth’ drawing the attention of his woman, with the ‘insolent stare’ that was once his own trademark. That the album was the first not to spin off a major hit single, despite healthy sales, proves another signifier of shifting times.
Yet here in the Miami heat – the Joe Robbie Stadium 25 November 1994, Whoopi Goldberg is in no doubt that the band she’s introducing is the world’s best. This DVD runs to the full 150-minute concert, plus twenty-four minutes of bonus tracks, with Whoopi there back on stage for the closing encore “Jumping Jack Flash”. But first, Jagger in red frockcoat opens with ‘I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be’ rewinding to the fused Buddy Holly-Bo Diddley beginnings of it all with “Not Fade Away”. I’ve seen the Stones tired, ragged and frayed, I’ve seen them loose and going through the motions. Here they’re tight and sharp, jolted with an EM-spike of visceral reanimated energies, on top form, athletic, embracing their history, but shoving it all forward. They do their first ‘ancient’ no.1 “It’s All Over Now” from Bobby Womack, who passed June 2014. ‘Ronnie’s done this with two bands’ comments Jagger, and yes, the Faces did it too. Ronnie winces, smokes a fag, closes his eyes and grimaces as he pulls licks from his guitar.
‘We thought to do something untried, something completely different, something we’ve never done before’ jives Jagger, ‘then we thought….’ as Keith plays-in the “Satisfaction” riff. Sheryl Crow joins for “Live With Me” – ‘I forgot to give her the flowers’ simpers Jagger, ‘what’ll she think of me?’ Robert Cray comes on for Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, then the greatest of them all, a genuinely mesmerising Bo Diddley with his own “Who Do You Love?” ‘Our first tour of England in 1963 was with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard… and Bo’ rewinds Jagger. ‘Yeh, tell ya, I enjoyed that one. Now I’m really wiped out.’ There are moods, but the Stones have always honed in on their core cleaving towards black music, to low-rent sex and hard-core sleaze. As late as “Start Me Up” in 1981 – their last UK top ten hit, and no.2 in the States, they were getting away with sneaking ‘you make a dead man cum’ into the fade. And bonus track “I Can’t Get Next To You” is a Temptations song done in an Al Green style. With Charlie’s rhythms as the cohesion for it all.
They take the long walk down to the B-stage for a three-song acoustic set – “Angie”, impossibly reducing the stadium down to small-club intimacy, Jagger on guitar for ‘a country song’ called “Dead Flowers”, and harmonica for “Sweet Virginia”, taking their Americana into the heart of America. There’s a solid four-guitar line-up for “I Go Wild”, Jagger in full voodoo garb for “Sympathy For The Devil”, and a Chuck Berry intro to “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
The Honky-Tonk man Keith sings “Before They Make Me Run” and “The Worst” against Ronnie’s aching dobro. Keith wears Whoopi’s velvet coat ‘off her back’ and grins mischievously into the camera. Jagger stoops to pick a thrown red rose. ‘Yes, it’s a glamorous life’ he mocks as he cleans spill from the stage floor. As the huge studded tongue lolls across the screen above them, the global highest brand-recognition logo, locked into Cyberworld stage design inspired by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with struts, arcs, scaffolding and bridges. Even though there are new faces. The set gets enriched by fat sax solos from ‘our old friend’ Bobby Keys, who passed December 2014, ‘another goodbye to another good friend’. Backing vocalist Lisa Fischer is delightful in white shorts and leopard-print knee-boots, with a Jagger #Metoo booty moment. Darryl Jones’ white bass defines the big production number “Miss You”. While Chuck Leavell does the keyboard fills once done by Ian Stewart, who passed December 1985. And South African back-up voice Blondie Chaplin, who was briefly a Beach Boy.
There are cult ‘Nuggets’ freak-beat garage-bands with high-priced cult-collectable singles of awesome power. But there’s so many throw-away Stones ‘B’-sides that we take for granted with greater snotty-energy, any one of them strong enough to embed a career. Beat-up, torn and frayed with more last hurrahs to come, they’re still a dirty slap in the face of the slickly-processed over-produced twenty-first century. Oddly, the Stones are finally the biggest Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world at a time when it means very little, having outlasted every other major rival – unless you count people like Metallica who are festival-massive but mean little or nothing to the outside world. There may be no more global Rock heroes, but everyone knows the Rolling Stones.
‘Give thanks’ says Keith, ‘I know I do.’
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON