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The Rolling Stones - Ladies & Gentlemen
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The Rolling Stones - Ladies & Gentlemen

This explosive concert film, highlighting The Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour in support of “Exile on Main St.,” depicts the rock n’ roll band at the peak of its powers. Filmed during two shows in Texas, and featuring contributions from longtime collaborators Bobby Keys & Nicky Hopkins, the performances focus on originals as well as a pair of blues-drenched covers. Part of the Coda Groundbreakers Theme.

Street Fighting Men

8 Min Read

It was just another night-gone-haywire on the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour of North America. On this particular evening, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Marshall Chess (the president of Rolling Stones Records) were handcuffed and stuffed into a paddy wagon, driven to a police station in Rhode Island, ordered to remove ties, shoes and belts, and then confined to a jail cell. 

“There they sit. Criminals. Desperados. This is where the road had brought them. Where is the party Marshall went looking for? Where? Is this how America treats its visiting rock royalty? Is it? With the chain and the paddock and the mug sheet?”

So wrote Robert Greenfield in his new-journalism chronicle of that ’72 tour, “S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with The Rolling Stones.”

The Stones eventually were released thanks to the earnest pleading of Boston Mayor Kevin White, whose city was to host a Stones concert that same night. Richards and company had been arrested for assaulting a photographer in Warwick, R.I., where their flight had been diverted because of foggy weather at Boston’s airport. White informed police that if the Stones weren’t released so they could play their show at Boston, 15,000 ticketholders would likely riot.

White’s 11th hour plea proved persuasive. The freshly sprung Richards and Jagger roared up Int. Hwy. 95 with a police escort and arrived shortly before 1 a.m. July 19 for what would be the first of two sold-out concerts at the Garden.

The show? Well, it rocked, at least according to one awe-struck onlooker, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. “It was as amazing as you can imagine,” he told the Boston Phoenix. “And it was a combination of events that you just can’t orchestrate. It was the kind of thing that made the Stones what they are. I mean, the biggest rock ‘n’ roll outlaws in the world get arrested and then make a mad dash to Boston with a police escort.”

In 1967 the Stones were in so much trouble with drug-sniffing law enforcement that they spent almost as much time in courtrooms and jail cells as they did in the recording studio.

Romantic notions of rock outlaws aside, by 1972 the Stones were seasoned in the ways of chaos. Crisis mismanagement was the band’s typical operating mode. The band’s stages were inevitably overrun by manic fans at its ‘60s concerts. In 1967 the Stones were in so much trouble with drug-sniffing law enforcement that they spent almost as much time in courtrooms and jail cells as they did in the recording studio (only a slight exaggeration — Richards once said the quintet’s ’67 studio album “Their Satanic Majesties Request” was made “under the influence of bail”). Founding guitarist Brian Jones was booted out of the band for excessive drug use (imagine that!) in June 1969 and a few weeks later was found dead in his swimming pool. The decade and the band’s notorious 1969 North American tour crashed to a close at the Altamont Motor Speedway in California, where four people died, one of them stabbed to death by the Hells Angels biker gang the band had hired to handle “security.”

That the Stones somehow managed to muddle through this swamp of disarray and create some of the era’s most enduring music appears to be, in retrospect, a kind of miracle. With Mick Taylor on board as Jones’ replacement on guitar, the Stones would go on to make some of their strongest music, including “Sticky Fingers” in 1971 and then “Exile on Main St.” in 1972. The tour that followed would be their first in North America since the disastrous Altamont gig, and offered an opportunity for the Stones to re-stake their claim as “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.”

The tour represented a shift toward Rock ‘n’ Roll Inc., an early glimpse of how the rock counter-culture would be co-opted. Jagger’s pouty lips were transformed into a band logo, films and books and behind-the-scenes articles were commissioned, and the tour bulged with hangers-on, drug dealers, groupies, would-be entrepreneurs, artists, journalists and opportunists profiting from their proximity to the band. 

Writers such as Terry Southern and Truman Capote tagged along, and Capote then hit the talk-show circuit to share backstage gossip with the likes of Johnny Carson. Greenfield, granted unlimited access to the band’s affairs, ended up writing “S.T.P.,” now considered a classic. The band also gave carte blanche to director Robert Frank, but then quashed his film — dubbed “Cocksucker Blues” — after viewing it. It has trickled out over the years, a tawdry, grimy, sometimes grim portrait of a band that appears alternately trapped or bored by the clichés of living like road outlaws staying in expensive hotels and flying in private planes.

Here is the band in full flight before its tours turned into eye-popping spectacles brimming with props, pyro and video screens.

In lieu of the Frank film, the Stones instead opted to release “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones,” which dispenses with all the shenanigans off the stage and instead focuses on what happens on it. As tours go, Stones ’72 is considered a landmark for good reason. Here is the band in full flight before its tours turned into eye-popping spectacles brimming with props, pyro and video screens. It is very much a band in its moment rather than a nostalgia act or greatest-hits jukebox. 

At the Dallas shows documented on “Ladies and Gentlemen,” the band ignores 12 of its 14 Top 20 U.S. singles from the ‘60s and instead slams into its latest material from “Sticky Fingers” and the fresh-out-of-the-oven “Exile on Main St.” with thrilling vigor. The core five — Jagger, Richards, Taylor, drummer Charlie Watts, bassist Bill Wyman — share the stage with a horn section (Bobby Keys on sax, Jim Price on trumpet and trombone) and a pianist (Nicky Hopkins or Ian Stewart) hidden in the shadows. 

Backing vocals, such as they are, are supplied by Richards. On recent tours, Richards barely has to sing at all, ceding the job to a handful of ringers. But nothing embodies the rogue charm of the Stones at their peak quite like Jagger, hands on hips, and Richards, guitar in hand, leaning into the same microphone like a couple of desperados at closing time. 

Sure, the sound can be rude — “Gimme Shelter” misses the drama provided by Merry Clayton during her earth-shaking cameo on the studio recording. But when Mick and Keith go head-to-head on the wicked kiss-off “Dead Flowers,” weave around each other on “Happy” or turn “Sweet Virginia” into an acoustic front-porch hootenanny, the Stones define who they are, with a sound that glimmers like diamonds in the dirt. 

Jagger, tarted up in eye shadow, glitter, form-fitting bodysuits and sashes, throws his body and his voice into the songs. He treats the lyrics like a nuisance, to be buried amid the noise as hurriedly as possible. Instead, his body — all miniscule hips, flailing arms, storm-tossed hair and sweat — does his talking for him, a mirror of the band’s hip-shaking roots-raunch-‘n’-roll.

Richards squares off with Watts and drives the band mercilessly with his right hand thrashing the guitar strings, and the drummer leans in as he races to keep up. Taylor and Wyman flank the Jagger-Richards-Watts triangle with impassive expressions, even as their fingers dance. Wyman adopts the sound and stance of a Chicago bluesman, right down to the way he holds his electric instrument as if it were a mini upright bass angling up from his torso. Taylor gives the sonic rudeness a dollop of sweetness, bringing grandeur to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and spooling out a long strand of colors amid the maelstrom of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” On the latter, Richards appears to be so caught up in playing THAT RIFF that even as the rest of the band winds up the tune, he’s still going full throttle as if he can’t slow down, let alone stop.  

The show’s pace rarely flags and when it does, Richards gets it back on track. He cuts off Jagger’s band-member introductions by leaping into Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” then ratchets up the speed even more on a furious “Rip This Joint.” The Stones’ vaunted sense of swing — the rhythm oil of Richards-Watts-Wyman seeping through the swaggering “Tumblin’ Dice” and the slow dance with despair that is Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” earlier in the set — evaporates as the band collectively eyes the finish line. 

Punk rock hadn’t been invented yet, but the Stones play something like it as the set’s final four songs press down on the accelerator and refuse to let up no matter how tight the turns in the arrangements. When Watts grits his teeth and shifts into a double time staccato beat as “Street Fighting Man” rushes along, the band looks like it’s about to fly off the rails. Jagger anoints the drummer with a shower of flower petals and spins dervish-like into the freight-train rhythm section bearing down on him. It’s a telling reminder that before they turned into big-ticket entertainers, the Stones in their street-fighting days could brawl with anyone.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones” Setlist 

1. Brown Sugar

2. Bitch

3. Gimme Shelter

4. Dead Flowers

5. Happy

6. Tumbling Dice

7. Love in Vain (Robert Johnson)

8. Sweet Virginia

9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

10. All Down the Line

11. Midnight Rambler

12. Bye Bye Johnny (Chuck Berry)

13. Rip This Joint

14. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

15. Street Fighting Man

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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