The Rolling Stones
Few artists, if any, have celebrated a 50-yr anniversary while remaining almost active for the entire period. 2012 and 2013 saw The Rolling Stones do exactly this, with the launch of Grrr!, a greatest hits compilation, featuring two new tracks, “Doom And Gloom” and “One More Shot”, and their subsequent 50 & Counting Tour across North America and Europe. Now, a decade and multiple tours later, The Stones are back with their latest live record, Grrr Live!. The 24-track live performance was recorded largely at the band’s December 15, 2012 performance at Newark, NJ’s Prudential Center, the final of four consecutive shows at the venue, and features guest performances from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Gary Clarke Jr., and Lady Gaga.
Opening with some of their earlier hits from the ‘60s, tracks that aren’t played nearly enough anymore, The Stones walk on to perform “Get Off My Cloud” and “The Last Time”. The band sounds big as they breathe a fresh sense of life into these songs. Immediately, the production behind Grrr Live! stands out for its overall sound quality. The densely stacked band, featuring a lush array of backing vocalists, keyboards, and percussionists in addition to the actual Stones, cuts through with a balanced and powerful mix, creating a dense wall of sound. This alone makes Grrr Live! stand out from most live records. Additional hits, like “Paint It Black”, “Miss You”, “Brown Sugar”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” sound fantastic, while the use of deep cuts such as “Dead Flowers”, “Happy”, and “Before They Make Me Run”, furthers the timelessness of The Stones as both songwriters and performers. Most impressively, the newly released “Doom And Gloom” shines among the stacked setlist.
The true highlights that separate Grrr Live! from the many other live records from The Stones is the band’s successful use of featured artists. The first, and arguably the strongest, comes from Mick Jagger’s duet with Lady Gaga on “Gimme Shelter”. Gaga gives it all, leaving the audience with a stunning performance that should solidify her worth as one of pop’s greatest vocalists of our time. A close second would be the Freddie King cover, “Going Down”, featuring both John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. The resulting track is driven by a thick wave of roaring guitars and is about as hard-hitting and heavy as The Stones get. Additionally, The Black Keys guest on the Bo Diddley cover “Who Do You Love” while Springsteen makes for a truly memorable “Tumbling Dice”. One final treat for lifelong Stones fans is the striking return of guitarist Mick Taylor on “Midnight Rambler”.
Is Grrr Live! among the best sounding live records from The Stones? Yes, given the time in which it was recorded, the mix is crisp without feeling weakened by limited recorded tech or dated mixes. Is Grrr Live! the most necessary addition to the growing library of official live releases, beginning to rival the number of studio albums? Not necessarily. There is nothing wrong with Grrr Live!, in fact, it captures The Stones at what may be their final performance peak in the modern era; however it feels very similar to other live albums recorded within the last two decades. While the polished production is most certainly a welcomed aspect, the raw edge and sense of danger that made last year’s El Mocambo 1977 so special feels long removed. Still, there remains an excitement from hearing The Stones live, particularly with the addition of the stellar featured artists. The band sounds refined and larger than life, a deadly combination that leaves the rock ‘n’ roll veterans sounding revitalized, even as they were entering their 70’s. If Grrr Live! demonstrates anything, it is that the band, even 50 years into their career, is a band still deeply connected to the creative process, something that elevates The Stones above most of their contemporaries, making for an exceptional, albeit not completely necessary, addition to the band’s live catalogue.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: THE ROLLING STONES – GRRR LIVE!