I didn't see the Stones when they came through Seattle (for the second time in a year) last month as part of their seemingly never-ending mega-tour for A Bigger Bang. My reasons are pretty much the usual ones; too much money goes without saying.
Plus, I've seen the Stones several times, anyway.
The best of these shows occurred some thirty years ago when they were a much younger, more vital band touring behind great albums like 1972's Exile On Main Street. Back then, the Rolling Stones, on some nights, at least, legitimately lived up to their claim as the so-called greatest rock and roll band in the world. On the strength of those shows alone, I'll admit I was still going to see the Stones as recently as Bridges To Babylon in the nineties. And that wasn't a great album.
The fact is Exile was pretty much the last great Stones album for me. They've had their moments since — a Some Girls here, a Tattoo You there — but for my money, if you wanted to sum up the Stones' best work in a nutshell, you can't go wrong with the period which began with 1968's Beggars Banquet, ran through Let It Bleed, and then ended up with Exile in 1972. That period is arguably when the Stones were at the peak of their game.
Which is interesting when you consider Mick Taylor was the guitarist on most, if not all of those records. The guitarist who replaced founding member Brian Jones (who was found dead in his swimming pool a month after the band sacked him), Taylor was widely believed to have been unhappy as a Rolling Stone and left the band soon after those records were made. He then promptly disappeared back into the obscurity from which he came.
That period is just one chapter covered in Truth Or Lies, one of those nifty little DVD documentaries on the Stones that seems to be popping up all over the place these days. Like those others you may have seen at your neighborhood Wal-Mart or Best Buy, this is also unauthorized, which means there is not a note of Rolling Stones music to be found here. As Rolling Stones films go, make no mistake, Gimme Shelter this ain't.
However, as unauthorized documentaries go, this is one of the better ones.
For one thing, in its ninety minute running time, it covers one hell of a lot of territory. Truth Or Lies traces the Stones from their 1962 beginnings as something closer to the unofficial fan club of British Blues legend Alexis Korner, to their Forty Licks tour selling out football stadiums around the world just four years ago.
For as much history as they have to cover in those ninety minutes — much of it comes in the form of encapsulated news bites — they do it pretty damn well. The style is fast paced, and there are just enough vintage clips included here to interest even the diehard Stones fan who thinks he may have seen it all.
The best of these, in addition to their inclusion in the main film, are also nicely packaged as extras which can be played separately.
These include Mick and Bianca's wedding in Saint Tropez, where Mick gets so flustered by the zoo of photographers he nearly stops the wedding. Mick is also seen answering reporters' questions — and doing so in surprisingly eloquent fashion — following one of the many sixties' courtroom dramas where the Stones had just beat yet another drug bust. A hilarious (and rarely seen) promo film designed to sanitize the Stones' "bad boys" image — a considerably less scruffy bunch shown as just your everyday innocent hitchhikers here — is also seen here in its entirety.
Since most of the film clips seen here come from the sixties, and from then-swinging London town in particular, there is also a nostalgic sort of British charm about this documentary.
Not nearly as stodgy or pretentious as some of those "Critical Overview" DVDs you may have seen in the Classic Rock section of the record store, this is a film that recognizes the Stones' turbulent history well enough to know when to have fun with it. There is a priceless segment on the whole fashion aspect of sixties' London, for example. It also recognizes that with the "unauthorized" sort of format, you have to work within your limitations. So it sticks pretty much to the main story for the most part.
Most impressive however, is the surprisingly large amount of great Stones' video clips they manage to cram into ninety minutes here. You see a young Keith Richards several times here, for example, trying to upstage a young and sexy Brian Jones by flashing what was then a still very boyish looking toothy grin.
Coming as it does, despite the lack of any Stones music, the quality and quantity of video here is surprisingly good. The cheesy sounding sixties rock-track they loop over and over as a backing soundtrack is something they may want to rethink next time out, though.
Truth Or Lies is far from being the definitive Stones film. For that, you need look no further than the dark and disturbing Gimme Shelter, which is arguably the greatest rock documentary ever made.
But as unauthorized documentaries go, I'd rate this one of the better ones. So as a Stones' fan whose preferences definitely favor their earlier stuff, I'm giving Truth Or Lies Two And A Half Licks.