Ladies & Gentleman…The Rolling Stones presents the world’s greatest rock and roll band onstage during their 1972 North American Tour. Footage captured during four separate Texas concerts was edited together for the final eighty-two minute film. Following a 1974 theatrical release, the film was never officially available on home video until now. Eagle Rock Entertainment has issued the electrifying performance on Blu-ray, restored and remastered.
Aside from the musicians’ frequently changing attire, Ladies & Gentleman recreates the concert experience relatively seamlessly. Following three minutes of near darkness, accompanied only by crowd noise, The Rolling Stones take the stage for a ferocious rendition of “Brown Sugar.” The relentless energy never really lets up, even during the slower numbers. This is prime Stones, a far cry from the nostalgia act they eventually became. No props, projection screens, or pyrotechnics are found in this production. Only the five-piece band (with guitar ace Mick Taylor playing lead; this was still pre-Ron Wood), two horn players (including the irreplaceable Bobby Keys on sax), and pianist Nicky Hopkins.
The set list only dips into pre-1968 territory for a scuzzy cover of Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny.” Otherwise the songs mainly come from their then-recent albums: 1969’s Let It Bleed, 1971’s Sticky Fingers, and of course 1972’s Exile On Main St.. The band sounds raw and dirty, scraping through their patented blues-rock mud. Mick Jagger is in fine, belting vocal form throughout. He even helps Keith Richards sing “Happy” (normally a Richards’ solo vocal), offering a rare variation on that song. Jagger’s frenetic showmanship is never less than astounding as he appears to be in near perpetual motion throughout the film.
Even the set’s sloppiest performance, a loping run through of “Tumbling Dice,” is fascinating. Stripped of the backing vocals so prominent on the studio version, the song sounds incomplete and at times threatens to fall apart. This type of loosey-goosey makeweight doesn’t fly in modern-era Stones concerts, where every last note is firmly in place. Hearing the band stumble through a classic number adds an exciting unpredictability to the proceedings.
For the most part, the performances are tight without sounding overly polished. The Stones were arguably at the very height of their powers in 1972. Mick Taylor’s fluid lead guitar work, however elaborate it gets, never draws attention to itself or overpowers Richards’ riffing. Though rarely seen onscreen, the venerable rhythm section of Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums is the glue that holds it all together. Whether anchoring a supremely taut reading of “Love In Vain” or driving the madly uptempo “Rip This Joint,” Wyman and Watts provide a bedrock foundation indispensable to the band’s sound.
Visually this looks nothing like the modern-era Stones concert films, such as those found on their multi-disc Four Flicks and The Biggest Bang extravaganzas. Ladies & Gentleman was originally filmed on 16mm film, resulting in very grainy images. Unlike today’s high-definition cameras that record every square inch of the stage from every optimal angle, this was catch-as-catch-can filmmaking. Shots are often out of focus, framing is sometimes dubious. But Eagle Rock’s Blu-ray provides a solid visual experience considering the limitations inherent in the source. I don’t know if the 1080p transfer was made from the 16mm original or from the 35mm it was blown up to for theatrical release. But the band is well lit by the stage lighting and fine detail is surprisingly strong.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is viscerally satisfying. The bass throbs from the speakers, but never sounds muddled or indistinct. Jagger’s vocals are intelligible but blend in perfectly with the rest of the instrumentation. Applause and general crowd ambiance is realistic and rarely, if ever, intrusive. The audio is free of distortion. Overall the mix offers a very strong experience, maintaining the “live” sound of an arena concert while keeping the various elements crisp and clear.
Rounding out the Blu-ray release of Ladies & Gentleman…The Rolling Stones are a few worthwhile extra features, presented in standard definition. The tour rehearsal footage is fun, with the Stones running through “Shake Your Hips” (not heard in the concert), “Tumbling Dice” (sounding more coherent than the concert version), and a laid back blues jam. There are also a pair of interviews with Mick Jagger. One is a vintage piece from around the time of the film’s production, while the other was done specifically for this home video release. Neither is particularly revelatory, but they are a nice addition to an already essential Blu-ray release.