Closer Than Close: Volume 1 (The Toronto 1997 Rehearsals)
(Rattlesnake RS 037)
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction / It’s Only Rock & Roll / Bitch / Let’s Spend The Night Together / Rock & A Hard Place / Fool To Cry / Ruby Tuesday / Anybody Seen My Baby? / Like A Rolling Stone / 19th. Nervous Breakdown / Star Star / Miss You / All About You [ 64:39 ]
Towards the end of 1997 the Rolling Stones were preparing for the tour that would support their latest album “Bridges To Babylon”. In early September the band called in a small club gig at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto for kicks & for the chance to spread out again after a short while off of the road. As Mick Jagger would have it “”It was pretty impromptu, yeah .. I just said the night before, ‘Hey, we should play tomorrow.’ But we hadn’t planned it. It wasn’t for publicity. We just wanted to do it. To get one little gig out of the way ’cause one gig’s worth a week’s rehearsal in my books.”
As it happened, less than two weeks later, the Stones were back in the studio to rehearse a little more. Despite the thrill of the open stage, the smell of spilt beer & sweaty shirts, a little fine tuning in a more conservative environment must have been thought to be required.
The fact that someone had the nerve to record the band rehearsing paid dividends this time as a soundboard recording of the Stones warming up is just what we need after the flurry of audience recordings that were to be released. We’re treated to a full, wide sound too – no sound stage presence – Mick’s voice tops everything, then drums & bass come to the fore with guitars & piano towards the back of the recording.
The only problem with the Stones recording in a safe place is that the band are unaffected by any audience & rather than trying to rock out & burn it up are generally saving their best moves for the live arena, that said, the band really burn it up tonight in places so we don’t miss all the action but Mick’s vocal slurs are less pronounced – usually he can fluff a word, no problem all in the name of rock ‘n’roll but this rehearsal finds him picking out every word from the lyrics without mushing them.
The fact that these days it’s pretty much a ‘best of’ set too excludes any inference of improvisation, although, to give the band their dues, the fact that they have a full Rolodex of songs to pick from each & every night leaves much less space to change songs around in & if someone was to lose a note then the whole thing might end toppling like dominoes. The songs are sometimes clipped too. This is usually AFTER a song has finished so it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of listening but is quite frustrating as you’re constantly hanging on for a stray spot of studio chatter.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some interesting moments here – One of the best catalogues in rock is being played out & this includes nearly half of the CDs listing being made up of songs from the 60’s – arguably the Stones most fecund period – along with the fighting fit sound of the bands 70’s output.
The disk was originally created by defunct CDR label Sister Morphine with better artwork. Rattlesnake do the credible thing by giving “The Good Sister” due respect on the back of their artwork & also by putting these tracks to silver disk ( Around the same time bootlegger Vague did the same in the far east but without the nod to our CDR friends. )
We begin the set with the best known Stones track & the riff that launched a million bands “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The version here is a full band romp through the song replete with the addition of keyboard ( Something else to tune in to after years of listening to the bare – boned original & not always the sound you might pick up on live. ) At the middle of the song there is a brief break down as Mick starts to count in the verses as if he can just pluck this from his brains by saying “Second verse” to himself but it lasts only a split second before the band roar back in to their regime. Then Keith & Ronnie spar together right at the very end, throwing in a few showy “ta-da” licks to end the track.
We then slot straight in to a slower version of “It’s Only Rock & Roll” with a glistening solo dropped right in the center of it all. “Bitch” steps up the speed once again & sprints through – The band are joined with the horns by this time & they add a lot more presence while the harmonies begin to come through a little more.
By the time we get to “Rock And A Hard Place” we’re also joined by the backing singers who electrify the track by adding short, sharp harmonies to the rest.
“Fool To Cry” is dripping with lament. Peacefully calm, the song flows along like a paper caught in the wind but does feature one of Jagger’s more impassioned vocals as he sounds over awed & upset, putting a lot of extra acting behind his meaning. It is, out of the evening, maybe not a surprise but a definite highlight. This type of yearning also follows through to “Ruby Tuesday”. Maybe Mick feels he can cut loose a little more on the quieter, slower tracks without over stretching himself.
“Anyone Seen My Baby?” is tonight’s sole concession to the 90’s. Quite typical of the Stones sound through the 80’s & 90’s, it is typified by it’s moodiness & modern studio sound. The semi- rapped bridge in the middle is a definite nod to it’s time at least but still sounds odd in the middle of a ‘Stones track.
The almost baffling inclusion of the Dylan written “Like A Rolling Stone” is here & rather lax. Just because it MENTIONS the band’s name really doesn’t make it a proper part of the set – especially as the author was still giving it due service at the time. Keith duets quietly in the back ground but really sounds like he’d rather be elsewhere. It’s only redeeming point is Mick’s harp solos but that’s only because it’s something else.
After this the CD can only go back up in estimations. “19th Nervous Breakdown” is given a facelift & lifts off after an extended introduction as Keith & Ron look each other, eyeball to eyeball & work it up. The real difference is the jazzy bass that rumbles along in the background that fizzes rather than plods – it’s something that Charlie’s drumming can dance around & he takes it up & really runs with it. The same can be said of “Star Star” – already a fighter in its 70’s form it hasn’t changed much apart from Ronnie’s crazy guitar work & the bar room piano.
“Miss You” is another song that works best with the swinging bass line. In time honored fashion it is played out to an good, long length which is it’s virtue as an abbreviated version of the track would only be disappointing. Mick shouts out instructions to the band this time reminding them of the places where chord changes are set while the band put on a fantastic rendition.
The set ends upon Keith’s rendition of “All About You” the closing track from ‘Emotional Rescue’. The song was originally written after Keith wanted to try claw back some work within the band & elevate some of the burden off of Mick. Apparently Mick was happy to retain control of the group & it still seems to show today as Mick helps from the side lines by prompting Keith with some of the lines at various points & shouts out help where needed. Once the song ends Keith befits us with the only amount of chatter by mentioning that that rendition of the track sounded ‘Closer than close’ & there by giving the CD its title.