The Rolling Stones – American Exile (Scorpio/Bad Wizard Am-Ex 1972/1-3)
Recorded Live at the Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, June 3, 1972; Center Coliseum (2nd show), Seattle, Washington, June 4, 1972; Tarrant County Convention Center (1st and 2nd show), Fort Worth, Texas, June 24, 1972; Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, June 26, 1972.
DISC ONE (CORRECT RUNNING ORDER): Brown Sugar, Rocks Off, Gimme Shelter, Bitch, Tumbling Dice, Happy, Honky Tonk Women, Loving Cup, Torn and Frayed, Sweet Virginia, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Ventilator Blues, Midnight Rambler, All Down The Line.
DISC TWO: Intro, Brown Sugar, Bitch, Rocks Off, Gimme Shelter, Happy, The Loveliest Night Of The Year, Tumbling Dice, Love In Vain, Sweet Virginia, Loving Cup, Band Intro, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, All Down The Line, Midnight Rambler (false start), Midnight Rambler, Bye Bye Johnny, Rip This Joint.
DISC THREE: Bye Bye Johnny, Rip This Joint, Jumping Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man, Jumping Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man, Sweet Black Angel, Sweet Virginia, Don’t Lie To Me, Love In Vain, Sweet Virginia, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, All Down The Line, Midnight Rambler, Band Intro, Bye Bye Johnny, Rip This Joint, Jumping Jack Flash, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.
1972. To longtime fans and followers, those four numerals add up to far more than merely one year in Rolling Stones lore. They mean magic. And amazingly, the aura of myth surrounding the storied ‘72 tour has grown rather than diminished with time and distance. The golden glory of the Stones in their prime is practically dipped in the glitter of that fabled, press-and publicity-saturated junket across the United States that, for all intents and purposes, changed the way international rock stars toured the world (private jets, public displays of debauchery, groupies indexed and leisure-pursuit connections itemized).
But it wasn’t myth. It was as real as the shit on your shoes; a tour and a moment in time that, while technically a mere two-month blip dotting their 50-year history, has loomed over everything the Stones have done since. It was the culmination and apex of everything we know (and I love) about the Rolling Stones: Mick’s moves, Keith’s muse, booze and blues, tribalism and decadence, and no less an album than “Exile On Main St.” to tour behind.
It is for those reasons and more that for some of us, it’s hard to be critically objective, or even rational, about hearing and reviewing a precious live document – or a piece of it, anyway – from the ‘72 tour. I can’t think of a single other rock band whose creative high water era has gone so woefully undocumented on official (read: non-bootleg) audio. Sure, the 1974 concert film, “Ladies & Gentlemen,” has made the occasional, midnight movie art-house rounds (but its holy-grail renown has far more to do with the collectors’ market, which has encouraged and sustained countless VHS and DVD bootlegs over the decades). The truly maddening aspect of the debacle surrounding a dearth of official ’72 tour audio artifacts is that Mick Jagger had fully intended to release a live album from the tour, which is in large measure why several shows were professionally recorded in the first place (Mick even talked about the possibility of issuing a double LP comprised of a half-and-half split between live recordings and new material).
Alas, thorny legal issues arose involving song publishing ownership with thorn-in-Stones-side Allen Klein, and the idea never came to fruition. Instead, fans have ironically been subjected to a half-dozen or so inferior “live” albums such as the unintentional though accurately titled “Still Life” that have never come close to touching the ‘72-‘73 era for spirit, musicianship, and Stones quintessence.
Consequently, for those of us too young to have actually witnessed and heard the band back then in the flesh when it descended upon Madison Square Garden or the Spectrum or the Fabulous Forum (see? Right now, I bet your mind’s eye and ear is already hearing the legendary bootlegs that captured those shows), getting our ear near a ’72 recording is akin to aurally touching the hem of an exquisite, elusive garment. (That garment being a white or purple velveteen jumpsuit bejeweled with diamond rhinestones and crimson scarves).
So it is with “American Exile,” one of a new string of Stones releases that’s been issued recently by the revived Scorpio label in Japan (with a co-credit assist from Bad Wizard). It is, on the surface, a beautifully presented three-disc package that comes with a glossy tri-fold cover sleeve, sumptuous “Exile”-era stage photographs, a reproduction of the concert-date itinerary taken from the official John Pasche 1972 tour poster, and a nice little eight-page booklet of photos and text (albeit oddly focused on tangential elements of the tour such as press coverage and security concerns).
But unfortunately, the package is a bit like that big Stones reflecting mirror and dramatic lighting deftly used to substantially amplify the human-scale proportions. In terms of both performance and recording quality, the music here is good to very good. But the contents are ultimately a rehash of repeatedly released shows that have shown up roughly a dozen times previously in different configurations. Unless you have missed most of those titles, proceed with caution. Basically, we get the June 3 kick-off date in Vancouver and the late June 4 Seattle show. As for the handful of considerably stronger (in terms of audio fidelity) tracks culled from Fort Worth, New York, and Philadelphia that round out this set, you would be far better served tracking down any one of the plethora of already-issued titles that contain complete concerts of those seminal ‘72 dates.
Be that as it may, most of the music here is presented (again) as very good mono/stereo audience recordings of a typically chugging Stones set list from that tour – “Brown Sugar”; “Bitch”; “Rocks Off”; “Gimme Shelter”; “Happy”; “Tumbling Dice” etc. The Vancouver show has always been far more appealing for its novelty than for the quality of the performance (short-lived “Exile” and shaky stage experiments including “Ventilator Blues”; “Loving Cup”; and “Torn and Frayed” are auditioned; none of which made the long-term cut). Even hopes for a significant upgrade fall short, unfortunately. Jagger’s vocals have always been boom-y and distant on the Vancouver tape, no matter the release, and that has not changed, sorry to say (and hear).
The Seattle show is spirited enough, if occasionally sloppy – the band re-starts “Midnight Rambler” after an opening gaffe (but recovers to deliver a solid reading), and abruptly cuts “Gimme Shelter” short amid what appears to be some confusion on stage. But the audience recording is fairly clear and strong, with both Jagger’s voice and Keith Richards’s and Mick Taylor’s guitars nicely placed in the mix, especially on a rip-snorting Chuck Berry cover, “Bye Bye Johnny,” which features Keith really climbing the ladder (or neck, as it were) while feeding his Berry jones.
The main drawback here (besides the glaring track listing errors which I’ll get to in a minute) is that this set initially comes across as a tour souvenir compilation of sorts. But the shows that have been chosen are neither definitive nor especially rare or well-recorded. For the casual collector, the best place to start surely isn’t Vancouver or Seattle, as there are far better definitive documents. And hardcore collectors will likely already have at least one or more of these shows.
But far and away, the biggest problem is the wildly inaccurate track list for disc one. This gripe is perhaps chiefly an aesthetic one, yes, but the fact that this mistake could have so easily been prevented somehow makes it all the more egregious. Only the opening number, “Brown Sugar,” is listed correctly. The remaining 13 tracks are badly scrambled and look amiss from even a cursory glance at the list. “Sweet Virginia” the second song the Stones play? Huh? “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” four songs in? Given the premium placed on historical accuracy in this medium of underground recordings released for posterity as well as profit, the garbled track listing is jarring and off-putting to listeners left to manually match up the incorrect tracks with the correct show.
As if this wasn’t unfortunate enough, the decision to break up portions of the concerts, separate one show from another, randomly insert and tack on songs is bewildering. Why, for instance, spread the Vancouver show between disc one and then finish the final four tracks from the show not on disc two but rather on disc three? Or sprinkle two Seattle tracks (“Jumping Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man”) smack dab in the middle of disc three? And why have four consecutive versions of these two numbers on the third disc?
No matter how you add it up, it just doesn’t make any coherent sense. Ultimately, the resultant effect is as confusing and sloppy as the Stones’ stumble on “Midnight Rambler” in Seattle. And as with the Stones on an off night, we know from its track record that Scorpio, despite the shambolic display here, is capable of much better.