Altamont Speedway Free Festival (TARKL TCD-001 1/2)
Altamont Speedway, Livermore, CA – December 6th, 1969
Disc 1 (46:24): Jumping Jack Flash, Carol, Sympathy For The Devil #1, Sympathy For The Devil #2, The Sun Is Shining, Stray Cat Blues, Love In Vain, Under My Thumb #1, Under My Thumb #2, Brown Sugar
Disc 2 (39:28): Midnight Rambler, Live With Me, Gimme Shelter, Little Queenie, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women, Street Fighting Man
Altamont is one of the cultural signifiers of the boomer generation that is oftentimes blown all out of proportion. This festival has been called the “end of the hippie era,” “the end of the innocence embodied by Woodstock,” “the de facto end of the 1960’s,” and “death of the Woodstock nation.”
With poor planning, last minute schedule changes, and the hiring of the Hells Angels as security all blunders, this event is infamous for the murder of Meredith Hunter during “Under My Thumb.” Although his death is tragic, it begs the question of what was he doing pointing a gun towards the stage in the first place?
Parts of the show are included in the film Gimme Shelter and, in the absence of an official soundtrack, many releases copy that including Gimme Shelter (Save The Earth STE 004) and Gimme Shelter – Millennium Edition (The Millennium Edition).
The audience tape has been used for many releases including three on vinyl; thirteen tracks on the vinyl Altamont (recorded in Altamont “Nightmare” Speedway) on one LP and fifteen tracks onAltamont ’69 (Alt Records) on two LPs and Altamont (M3A/B).
On compact disc it can be found on Hell’s Angels And Murder At Altamont aka Altamont Speedway (Shaved Disc TSD 003) which is poor quality and incomplete, There’s No Angel Born In Hell (TSP-CD-028) has “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Gimme Shelter,” The End Of Innocence – Live At Altamont (Phoenix Records) incomplete with “Stray Cat Blues,” “Love In Vain,” and “Satisfaction” missing.
Other CD releases include Altamont Speedway (Shaved Disc TSD 003) which is incomplete and in poor quality, Altamont The Rolling Stones In Concert (Idol Mind Alta 69-1/2) has the complete audience recording as does Gimme Shelter (Golden Hit Records GHR 001-2), Altamont 1969 Full Show (Why Are We Fighting And What For?) (Hanging Dog 044) and finally “Altamont 1969″ The Killer Festival (Vinyl Gang VGP 113).
Altamont Speedway Free Festival on TAKRL contains the complete audience recording in identical quality to the Vinyl Gang Product release, so there is no upgrade. But it has been more than a decade since the VGP release so TAKRL make this available again in an affordable edition. This is a very clear tape and a good record of the show and chaos that ensued in front of the stage.
The lower end is absent in the first song and is thin throughout with emphasis on the vocals and guitar. There are numerous cuts between numbers but nothing too significant is omitted and it captures most of the music and commotion.
The set list is similar to the rest of the 1969 US tour except that the two song acoustic set, “Prodigal Son” and “You Gotta Move,” were dropped for both this show and the previous date at the Miami Pop Festival in Miami on November 30th.
“Jumping Jack Flash” gets off to a slow start with the band sounding rusty after a week’s break. “There’s so many of you. Just be cool in front and don’t push around. Just keep still (laughs)” Jagger says before the band play “Carol.” One minute after starting “Sympathy For The Devil” there is a commotion in the crowd and the band stopped playing.
People by the recorder are audible saying, “be cool, be cool” and others say they are hurt and try to leave the area in front of the stage. During the interim Jagger says, “Hey people, brothers and sisters, c’mon now. That means everybody just cool out. Just cool out everybody. Everybody be cool now. How are we doing over there? Can we still make it out in front?…I hope you’re alright. Let give ourselves half a minute…is there anybody hurt? Something always funny happens when we start that number.” There is a cut in the tape where Jagger is saying, “who is fighting and what for? Who’s fighting and what for?”
“Who do you think?” someone shouts. “Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? We don’t want to fight. Every other scene has been cool, we gotta stop right now or else there is no point. Jagger can be heard off mike threatening to stop playing if a particular guy doesn’t stop fighting. “I just want him to stop pushing people around.” One of the Hell’s Angels comes on and threatens, “Hey if you don’t cool it you ain’t gonna more music, Do you want to all go home or what?” “You’re the one who started it” some girl shouts.
“The doctor is coming through in a green jumper and he’s just here. Can you let the doctor get through please and let him get to the person who is hurt. We also lost in the front here a little girl who is five years old.” “Blame the angels” a guy by the taper shouts. After “Sympathy” the band get into a mellow version of “The Sun Is Shining,” maybe to help calm things down. Although the Stones used to play this song in 1962 and 1963, this is the only extant recording of them playing the song.
After “Love In Vain” Mick says, “I think there is one good idea that came out of that number is that the only way you’re gonna keep yourself cool is to sit down.” Things break down again forty seconds into “Under My Thumb.” There is a small cut in the tape where Jagger tells everybody to get to the side of the stage except for the Stones.
“Everytime we get to a number something happens. I don’t know what’s going on and who is doing what. All I can ask you, San Francisco, this could be the most beautiful night we’ve had this winter..so let’s get it together” and he begs everybody to keep cool. “Sam we need an ambulance. We need a doctor by that scaffold there…I don’t know what the fuck we’re doing….let’s get into a groove.”
Afterwards they premier the newly written “Brown Sugar,” “We’re gonna do one for you that we just a…you’ve never heard it before because we’ve just written it. I don’t know how good this is gonna be. This is the first time we’ve played it. The very first time we’ve played it.” The show settles down afterward, but by the end of the show some people by the tape are heard saying, “each number is heavier than the last.” “I know it just goes on and on and on…”
Before “Honky Tonk Women” Jagger makes an understatement saying they had a “few hang-ups.” This is packaged in a double slimline jewel case and obi strip with many photos from the event.
Altamont Speedway Free Festival isn’t an upgrade over the Vinyl Gang version of the show that came out more than a decade ago, but this is another opportunity to find this tape. It is a fascinating piece of history and the concert itself, despite the commotions and chaos, is very good.