In March 1971, the Rolling Stones had no time to lose. For the love of money, the band’s five core members needed to blow out of England before the new tax year began April 1. The band members were all deeply in debt to the government, which was charging them at the country’s 90 percent rate for the highest income brackets. In a matter of days, they would become tax exiles to avoid another major hit to their wallets.
But there was a not-so-small task they needed to complete before packing their bags. The Stones just-finished studio album, “Sticky Fingers,” was set to be released in April, and they needed to promote it somehow in their home country. A quick British tour — nine cities over 10 days — was put together, the band’s first on native soil since 1966. It would be dubbed the “Goodbye Britain” tour, not that the band needed to hype ticket sales in its home country, where anticipation for the first new Stones studio album since 1969 was already high.
After the tour wrapped, the Stones performed an encore of sorts on March 26 at the Marquee, the legendary London club, capacity 300, where they had made their live debut in 1962. The band played two short shows, one for fans, one for friends and family. Both were filmed. The sets showcased the Stones new tour lineup, expanded since the ’69 North American jaunt to include saxophonist Bobby Keys and trumpeter Jim Price, and bringing in Nicky Hopkins on keyboards.
Save for Mick Jagger’s glittering vest, the band looks as though it’s playing in someone’s living room.
The Stones preview “Sticky Fingers” by playing four of the album’s ten tracks: “Dead Flowers,” “I Got the Blues,” “Bitch” and “Brown Sugar.” Save for Mick Jagger’s glittering vest, the band looks as though it’s playing in someone’s living room. Keith Richards, for one, looks unshaven and rumpled, as if he’d just rolled out of bed — don’t bet that he hadn’t.
The new stuff dazzles, with Jagger and Richards head-to-head at the mic on “Dead Flowers,” while Mick Taylor brings country voicings to his guitar picking — any bluegrass band would have this guy.
On “Bitch,” Richards’ solo evokes a race car that catches fire while pinwheeling into the final turn. The sheer nastiness of the lyrics in “Brown Sugar” — which could be interpreted as everything from a guilt trip about interracial sex to a misogynist, racist fantasy — gets overrun, if not forgiven, by the sheer ferocity of the performance. Jagger dances with Keys, and Charlie Watts wallops the drums.
Best of all might be “I Got the Blues,” a rarely performed Jagger-Richards deep cut from “Sticky Fingers” that mines the scorching balladry of Otis Redding, complete with Stax-worthy horn accompaniment. Jagger pushes his voice to the breaking point, dispensing with some of the self-aware affectations that occasionally creep into his delivery when he’s more transparently appropriating a particular roots style, whether it’s soul, blues or country. The song nonetheless was stashed by the Stones for decades before it was performed live again.
How the band dispenses with the iconic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” proves telling. The song has become a standard part of Stones’ set lists in recent decades, something of a sacred text hewing close to the original recording when performed live. But in 1971 the band seems to regard it as ancient history, a hit from its distant past (six long years ago!). It begins at a languid pace and then slowly builds into horn-accentuated vocal vamping down the stretch. It’s a “jam” that they bend, twist and re-shape.
For the Stones at this stage in their career, all eyes are on an immediate future bursting with creative possibilities. Indeed, only two months after this performance, the Stones would be setting up shop in the south of France to begin recording their masterpiece, “Exile on Main St.”
The Rolling Stones “Marquee Club Live 1971” Setlist
1. Live with Me
2. Dead Flowers
3. I Got the Blues
4. Let It Rock (Chuck Berry)
5. Midnight Rambler
6. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
8. Brown Sugar