“Secret Gig in Paris” (Counting Records, CR-121025-CD)
Recorded Live at Le Trabendo, Paris, Oct. 25, 2012
1. (79:00) Introduction, Route 66, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It), Shattered, When The Whip Comes Down, Champagne And Reefer, Doom And Gloom, Miss You, Tumbling Dice, Start Me Up, Midnight Rambler, Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Bonus Tracks: Live Report In Paris, I Wanna Be Your Man, Doom And Gloom, One More Shot (Rehearsals In Paris, Oct. 11, 2012)
“I can’t believe we’re all still standing up,” Mick Jagger said from the stage after a typically ramshackle “Shattered,” three songs in to the Rolling Stones’ “secret” club gig at Le Trabendo in Paris last October 25. “You’d think by now, at least one or two of us would be sitting down,” said the man who has made a career of flouting Father Time. “But we’re not.”
And no, they weren’t, and didn’t, sit down (except for drummer Charlie Watts, but that’s his job after all). Instead as if to prove a point, at age 69, the most enduring rock singer in history and his pension-age cohorts launched into a blustery, blistering rendition of “When The Whip Comes Down,” one of the faster potboilers in the Stones’ canon.
Anytime the Rolling Stones decide to coalesce into an entity again is cause for conversation (a new tour?), speculation (can they still do it?), and, ultimately for fans and followers, celebration (yes, they can). All the more so when the band in question is widely expected to tour to mark its improbable yet perhaps inevitable 50th anniversary. But then doesn’t – not exactly anyway – due to snide sniping, bruised egos, and public hissy fits brought on by one tell-some-if-not-exactly-all autobiography. How can we forget the best-selling “Life,” in which guitarist Keith Richards spends a few pages flogging his fellow songwriting foil’s leadership qualities, his trend-following tastes, insecure personality, epic vanity etc. And then has the temerity to even mock Mick’s manly endowment, thus taking a cruel blade to one of rock’s sacred cows (or is it todgers?). Oh the Horror! The Hor-ror!
It could have been worse. The Glimmer Twins could have stopped talking or touring entirely, as they did for roughly half a decade during the ‘80’s. But as the Who, Kinks, Oasis, Black Crowes, and scores of other dysfunctional siblings and blood brothers have proved, a little tension can be good for a band.
It sounds good here – or, at least good enough at this late stage of the game. The new “Secret Gig In Paris,” released on the Counting Records label, is one of what is likely to be a rash of new offerings both official and unofficial capturing the Stones’ abbreviated (a paltry four arena shows) 50th anniversary concerts late last year. So far, The Godfather’s double disc sets, “Everybody, Rattle Your Jewelry” and “Champagne, Reefer and a Red-Headed Woman” have been among the other early entries.
Featuring simple but attractive color card packaging (pics presumably from the show and a nice shot of the night’s set list), the disc documents the band’s’ October 25, 2012 surprise warm-up gig at the 600-capacity Le Trabendo club before an understandably rapturous audience who didn’t know they’d be going to see the Stones that night. This was the first time in five years the principals (plus longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell) had stood on stage together, and here they give a loose yet solid – if far from definitive or adventurous – overview of their five-decade catalog, sticking mostly to the standard set list to which we’ve become accustomed.
Unfortunately, the disc’s packaging and photos are as crystal clear as the recording is not (not that that’s what we expect from either the Stones or their unofficial oeuvre). An especially muddy mid-section (and a degree of distortion throughout) due to what appear to be overloaded sound levels interferes somewhat with the listening experience – especially marring “Miss You,” “Tumbling Dice” and an otherwise strong workout of “Midnight Rambler.” The good news is, the higher the volume, the better it sounds. (That’s the way rock & roll works).
No matter how die hard a Stones fan, many of us probably never need to hear “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I like It)” again. But at least here it feels gritty and grimy, with the sleazy swing that’s always made it a guilty pleasure anthem. In fact, Keith and Ronnie sound casually locked in, jam-session style, from the get-go of “Route 66” (one of this 12-song set’s rarer treats), which starts the show where the Stones themselves began: playing this number and other blues/R&B standards at the Marquee half a century ago.
Although his vocals have aged like vinegar through the years, Jagger sounds in sprightly, spirited form, while Keith’s and Ronnie’s cross-hatched guitars jab, cut, and weave. As with other recordings of the band’s warm-up club gigs over the past few tours, “Secret Gig In Paris” demonstrates what the Stones do best (but alas, far too infrequently): fire up a club crowd with no-frills rock & roll. So it’s especially heartening to hear, for 80 minutes at least, the band almost magically transported to an early epoch in its trajectory, before the band became the brand. Other roots highlights include a greasy, groove-heavy seven-plus minute reading of Muddy Waters’s’ “Champagne and Reefer,” with Mick’s reedy vocal suiting the slink of a song built for a party.
From there, the Stones take the time machine to last year’s “Doom and Gloom,” a boilerplate mid-tempo throwaway whose opening recalls similarly workmanlike late-period efforts like “You Got Me Rocking” and “Don’t Stop.” Kudos to the guys for writing some new material for the mix. I just wish it was better. (And I believe the Stones of old would agree and insist on such – all you have to do is listen to what they deemed inferior and left on the cutting room floor during their brilliant 1968-72/73 run). With any luck, the song won’t occupy a similar place in the band’s permanent set as “Rocking” apparently has.
Man, do those first stabbing “Jumping Jack Flash” riffs sound great in a club. OK, they sound great anywhere, but especially a small venue like this one, where the song’s knotty punch is delivered in your face like a bracing blow during an encore that also features, by contrast, a less potent run-through of “Brown Sugar.”
Although the bonus tracks (the ancient “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “GRRR!” ’s “One More Shot” and “Doom and Gloom”) are non-essential extras, the live news report from Paris makes for a nifty little man-on-the-street memento. Those aforementioned live bonus numbers are crude recordings from the Paris rehearsals from two weeks earlier, and sound as though they were taped by someone standing in the rain outside the club. Now that’s dedication. Not fifty years’ worth, but still.