The Rolling Stones — Hamburg 1973 1st Show (No Label)
Live at Ernst-Merck Halle, Hamburg, Germany, Oct. 2, 1973 (1st Show)
CD 1 (68:00): Introduction, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter, Happy, Tumbling Dice, Star Star, Dancing With Mr. D, Angie, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Midnight Rambler, Honky Tonk Women, All Down The Line, Rip This Joint, Jumping Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man.
The legendary Brussels shows were still two weeks away when the Stones rolled into Ernest-Merck-Halle in Hamburg, West Germany for the first of two concerts on the afternoon and evening of October 2, 1973. Maybe rolled isn’t quite the word – steamrolled is more like it.
As most of us who’ve heard the best boots of the 1973 European tour can attest, this may have been the fiercest touring incarnation of the Rolling Stones in their 50-year history. Supremely honed and hard-hitting from a previous year spent touring the United States (not to mention a few scattered U.S. shows and an Australian tour during the early months of ‘73), the Stones were a blazing unit by the time they hit the road that autumn to promote their new “Goats Head Soup” album, released at the end of August 1973.
Conventional wisdom has long consigned that LP to also-ran status and deemed it a lackluster follow-up to the landmark “Exile On Main St.” double album that snapped the Stones’ string of consecutive classics. True, the Stones themselves have acknowledged the exhaustion that set in following their ‘72 tour (not to mention the de-compressing, de-briefing, and partying that we can reasonably expect took place in Jamaica during much of the “Goats Head” writing and recording sessions).
But to me, “Goats Head Soup” has always been an underrated album; then and now it makes for a valuable portrait that captures where the Stones were musically, psychologically, and emotionally at the time. It was producer Jimmy Miller’s final album with the band he helped redefine and shape, before drug addiction would send him into a downward spiral for the remainder of the ’70s (one could say the same about Keith Richards). And it contains some of the band’s most gorgeously introspective ballads and lyrically wistful performances, as well as a pretty fair rocker or three.
Besides the monster radio smash, “Angie,” of course, there are poignant, pining moments such as “Winter,” “100 Years Ago,” and Keith Richards’s post-nod lament/letter to Anita Pallenberg, “Coming Down Again,” plus the urban drama tableau of “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” which — thanks to longtime keyboardist/sideman Billy Preston — remains one of the funkiest slabs of streetwise Stones ever put to recording tape. Finally, let’s face it: “Goats Head” sounds better and better with every disposable tour placeholder the Stones have put out these past 20 or so years.
It is ironic, then, that the same period that produced the “Mick Taylor era”’s most inward-gazing, self-probing Stones album also coincided with the band’s most musically ferocious tour (Taylor’s last as a Stone). What’s perhaps most surprising, considering the relative critical letdown of “Goats Head Soup,” is how strongly the “Goats Head” material stood up on stage alongside the classics. It also held its own with the fistful of other still-newish “Exile” numbers that, barely a year or so old themselves, had quickly established themselves as set list staples (“Happy”; “Tumbling Dice”; “All Down The Line”; “Rip This Joint”).
For those of us who’ve hungered to hear more than the usual two or three specimens from this truly special era, “Hamburg 1973 1st Show,” a new no-label release with simple packaging (two-sided color insert and tray card with tour-accurate artwork), does a good job of showing what the Stones were bringing to the stage almost every night.
Although it is, alas, just a good-to-very-good audience recording and light years away, in terms of sound quality, from essential ‘73 documents like “A Brussels Affair” (and all of its variants), “Nasty Music/Songs,” “Bedspring Symphony” and “The Jean-Clarke Mammorial Sonic Barbecue,” this title is nevertheless a worthy, if not exactly essential, second-tier addition to the Stones unofficial ‘73 canon.
As far as I can tell, “Hamburg” marks only the first time that this particular show has been released on silver disc (only one other release, a no label CD-R, “Afternoon in Hamburg,” is known to exist). Although the fidelity leaves something to be desired, especially in contrast to other high quality soundboards of, say, the Brussels and Wembley shows, the band’s top-notch performance punches through the mediocrity of the tape.
This is the first of two shows the Stones played that day, and while the second concert has been fairly widely circulated, it’s a wonder why this matinee took so long to surface. The set list for both shows that day was essentially the same, but during the afternoon the boys substitute a stealthy (and far more scarce, as it wasn’t played nearly as much) “Dancing With Mr. D” for “Heartbreaker,” which made an appearance during the evening show. Two other strongly performed “Soup” selections bookend “Mr. D,” including the ribald Chuck Berry-esque groupie-grope workout, “Star Star” (uncensored title: “Starfucker”), and, from the other end of the spectrum, the big breakup ballad, “Angie.”
From there, the Stones dive right back into the back-to-back stage showpieces of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Midnight Rambler,” both of which greatly benefit from the extended dramatic treatments of this era. Since we don’t get to see frontman Mick Jagger’s visual inhabitation of those numbers on disc, the epic splendor of those songs, in no small part, has to do with lead guitarist Mick Taylor’s effortlessly sublime solo work.
Here, he and fellow guitarist Keith Richards sound locked in from the start, and their darkly magical guitar interplay is on magnificent display, starting with an epic reading of the second song of the night, “Gimme Shelter.” Richards sketches the song’s architectural skeleton and provides its musculature: its heart, guts, and soul. Taylor’s cerebral, surgically precise playing, meanwhile — all connecting-tissue filigrees, sensory accents, and intricately routed solos — sends the lifeblood pumping through its circulatory system.
Jagger’s voice here is fairly distant and echo-y in the hall, although relatively front and center in the mix (he consistently sang with gusto on this tour, as if to match the decibel level being wrought by the band). But longtime Stones boot listeners (like me) who reasonably expect, and are used to listening through, the inherent sonic limitations imposed by an audience recording won’t likely to be too terribly put off by them here, given the tour, the tracks, and the sheer dynamism of this concert. And as sometimes happens (with me, at least) while listening to a solid, if not spectacular, audience tape, once you tune your ears and perspective to the audio spectrum and dynamics on display, the recording increasingly sounds “normal.” This show’s sound seemed to become better as it progressed (and better from the outset on repeated spins).
But I know that what really happened was that my ears adjusted, while my sonic and visual imagination – in other words, the way I sensed the Stones actually must have sounded that night – augmented and enhanced the recording. Ahh, if only to have been there back then, I thought as I listened. For me, having that thought cross my mind is always a good litmus test of a whether an unofficial recording, imperfections and all, is worth hearing or having. If the drawback in audio quality sounds too much like a heartbreaker (or a deal-breaker), you may prefer to sit this number out. Me, I’m happy to have this rare chance to dance with Mr. D.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)