The Rolling Stones, “Paris Was Hot” (no label). Live at Stade de France, Paris, France, June 16th, 2007.
DISC ONE (66:20): Opening, Start Me Up, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Rough Justice, All Down The Line, She Was Hot, Waiting On A (Listed as ‘The’) Friend, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, I’ll Go Crazy, Tumbling Dice, Band Introductions, Happy, (I) Wanna Hold You.
DISC TWO (49:32): It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, It’s All Over Now, You Got Me Rocking, Honky Tonk Women, Sympathy For The Devil, Satisfaction, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash.
Paris may have been hot, but the Rolling Stones, sadly, were not. Were they an entertaining and legendary spectacle for those who were at the Stade de France that June 16 night in 2007? Almost certainly. Were they occasionally hard, gleaming, and ageless as a diamond (a brisk, hot-wired “All Down The Line” and the bop-and-stroll evergreen “It’s All Over Now” were perhaps THE evening’s highlights)? Sure.
But for the most part, despite scrabbling and trying to punch their way through the duff notes and muffed solos, this just wasn’t the Stones’ night. And they knew it. Or, more specifically, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood – both of them main culprits in the mess – knew they blew it.
“Shit, I’ll make it up as I go along,” croaked Keef gamely, after forgetting the lyrics mid-set on his signature song, “Happy,” which sounded barely held together by bits of twine, glue, and vague collective sense-memory.
Were it not for the potent horn section and the professionally peerless backing vocals of Lisa Fischer, Bernard Fowler, and Blondie Chaplin, the tune would surely have collapsed in a slovenly heap reminiscent of how Keith crashed in hotel rooms across the globe during those halcyon ‘70s (and usually, we don’t care for the “entourage” approach employed by the Stones and many other classic rock bands that perform with the assistance of a legion of backup singers and musicians).
When “Happy” wheezed and wobbled to its conclusion and the unconditionally forgiving audience responded enthusiastically (reassuringly?), Keith chuckled. “Oh, you want another one?” he queried. “You must be mad.” And then lurched into a brutally bad “Wanna Hold You” that somehow succeeded in making the previous number sound as silky smooth as Steely Dan.
These moments and more have all been preserved for dubious posterity on “Paris Was Hot,” a double-disc set by, presumably, the same “no name” label folks who brought us the ambitious six-disc “Stones In The Dome” set earlier this year (which we also heard and reviewed for CMR). The title seems an odd tribute to the little-played (for good reason, it turns out) boilerplate rocker, “She Was Hot,” which is given a choppy, woefully out-of-tune treatment here. Somebody must have dropped the knitting needle because that “ancient art of weaving” among guitars Keith always talks about unravels quickly.
Like “Stones In The Dome,” the packaging, disc labels, and sleeve design for “Paris Was Hot” are clean, crisp, and professional, with an attractive assortment of high quality color, period-correct photographs of the band on stage. The sound, while a bit thin at times, is relatively clear and strong, with the vocals (Mick Jagger, Keith, and backing vocalists) and the guitars placed front and center, similar to the overall sound quality we get on “Dome.” Overall, this comes across as a very good to excellent audience recording, similar to “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” Rattlesnake’s release of this concert (the only other issue of this show, as far as we know) a few years back.
But whereas the exhaustive “Dome” document of the band’s three-night stand at the O2 Arena two months after this show – also as part of its “A Bigger Bang” world tour – was eclectic and entertaining (even the band’s more ragged moments), “Paris Was Hot” shows what a difference two months – or even one night – can make.
If it is true, as at least one semi-legendary if fictitious British band once sagely observed, that there’s a fine line between clever and stupid, it also holds that there’s also a fine, precarious line between ragged and sloppy. The boys have been both, but with few exceptions here (the fairly rare “Waiting On A Friend”; a decent-but-disposable “You Got Me Rocking”; the woolly encore warhorse, “Jumping Jack Flash”), they’re far more of the latter on their lone night in Paris (the band would play Lyon, France two nights later).
And although included here and a treat to hear in any incarnation, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” brings mixed emotions. Whereas on 1971’s “Sticky Fingers,” it proved a showcase (aside from the absolutely killer Jagger vocal) for onetime lead guitarist Mick Taylor’s fluid brilliance, the song was never performed on stage during his tenure. With its truncated and atrophied Wood solo stabs, the song has since become a vehicle for Jagger’s smokily atmospheric harp playing and Bobby Keys’s saxophone solos, which for the most part, remain true to the record.
When the Stones are firing on all cylinders, they are (or were) indeed capable of living up to their vaunted title of “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World.” When they’ve got a blown gasket or gunked up fuel line, they just might be the worst (as far as living legends go, on a world stage and making that kind of money, anyway).
But that dichotomy has always been the baffling beauty of the beast that is the Rolling Stones. Maybe, deep down, it’s even part of their flawed charm; something that keeps them human and us guessing, if even just a little bit. No one would ever call rock & roll’s richest institution underdogs, but man, sometimes they can sure play like it. (Even if a sample of concertgoer posts at a Stones fan site reported a great show and an amazing time had by all; one strong dissent at the time bears out what our ears hear on “Paris Was Hot”).
All of which brings us to another dichotomy of contrast and perspective that listening to this release triggered: weighing the actual, you-are-there total experience of a concert, as it happened and as you heard it, saw it, and felt it in the heat and glow of the moment, versus the unofficial release that aspires to document, through the single sensory experience of a raw audio, that live experience. Which is the “truer” fact? What we heard or what the tape says we heard? Our memory or the mix? (And even in the best cases and most optimum of recording circumstances, the audio can hardly be considered completely objective or definitive at capturing the merits or totality of the live experience, can it? As comedian Mike Myers’s alter-ego Linda Richman, once urged on her Saturday Night Live “Coffee Talk” program, discuss and “talk amongst yourselves.”).
What ultimately was most mystifying to us when listening to “Paris Was Hot,” was wondering how it was even possible that the Stones, at this stage, could manage the feat of botching the opening riff to “Start Me Up,” a song that has been the band’s show starter for a mere 30 years now. Or how the encore-closing “Brown Sugar” – a tune that’s been a staple of the Stones’ set longer than some of their fans have been alive – could receive such similar shaky treatment. Or how the guitar solo break in the middle of “Honky Tonk Women,” maybe their most bar band-covered tune of all-time, could sound as clumsy and confused as if it were being attempted for the first time by a teenager who just got his first Mel Bay guitar primer?
Even at their most rote, tired, cross-wired, or uninspired, you’d think the band would at least manage to flick on the automatic pilot. Was that switch broken too? With their lavish production values, extravagant stage set design, and a lively set list, the Stones may have been aiming for a bigger bang to light up the summer sky that evening in June. But what they, and we, get instead is the sound of a dud, and a band imploding on itself.