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Extended Analysis

Live Licks: The Rolling Stones On Tour 2002-2003

By Published: November 20, 2004

The soul of the Stones remains intact, their best performances fraught with urgency and fiery emotion.

The Rolling Stones
Live Licks: The Rolling Stones On Tour 2002-2003
Virgin Records

Leave it to the Stones, the band that cannot be killed with conventional weapons. They tour the world presenting a show rife with circus-like theatrics, then release a live two-CD set culled from those shows, right at what's defined as Chirstmas time for the music industry. How predictable!?...Then listen to it and find it's chock-full of off-the-wall selections—the band actually solicited suggestions at least during the early part of the tour—played with fiery emotion.

In their early days, The Rolling Stones used to walk the line between polite society and outlaw status. Now they find themselves on a tightrope between careerist commerce and time-tested rock and roll mettle. The commerce factor no doubt prevents a triple CD to mirror the concept of the "Licks" tour—shows were conducted in many cities in three different types of venues—club/arena/stadium— but such a package might overstep the sales potential of what will no doubt be seen as "another live Stones album!?"

But in contrast to the lackadaisical No Security disc of 1998, Live Licks sounds fraught with urgency. How else to explain the inspiration to shout along with Mick on "Paint It Black," nod knowingly on the beautifully restrained "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or jump up and down to play air guitar during "Honky Tonk Women?" During the latter (where Sheryl Crow's guest spot is virtually non-existent), the band sounds as sassy and cynical as they did when the song was first recorded back in 1968 and here it is, over a quarter century later, with two original membes gone, and the tune echoes as loudly, almost as if a whirlwind driven to a 4/4 beat.

Like those big bands of yore, often continuing to tour without their titular leader (Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, et. al) the soul of the Stones remains intact. When you hear how Charlie Watts adds an accent to echo Jagger's lascivious vocal on "Brown Sugar" then experience the essence of raunch guitar as Keith answers his Glimmer Twin's pronouncement on "Gimme Shelter" that 'love is just a kiss away,' you know that the impact you're feeling is neither illusion or nor mere nostalgia. The first disc of familiar songs isn't all delight: there should be a law against audience singalongs—especially when conducted by the lead singer himself, as on "It's Only Rock and Roll"—but those weaker numbers nevertheless contain the instrumental highlights. In this case it's Chuck Leavell's barrelhouse piano, on "Angie," it's the sparkling acoustic guitars and a vocal that, wonder of wonders, sounds as heartfelt as the lyrics are life-affirming. It may be dangerous to over-analyze Live Licks , but the fact of the matter is that the double disc, produced with Jagger/Richard with Don Was and mixed for ultimate clarity by Bob Clearmountain, proves the Stones and their greatest songs have aged well. "Street Fighting Man" has lost its political edge, but remains an anthem to the restlessness of youth, while "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" has turned into what it was really meant to be all along: a contemporary blues.

It says more than a little about the surprising breadth of the Rolling Stones discography that disc two of this package contains as many sterling tunes, only less familiar ones than, perhaps, "Paint It Black." "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," allows the band to stretch out accommodating both a brawling sax interlude from Bobby Keys and a pretty fair harp break by Jagger himself, not to mention a chance to see how inventive is muscular bassist Darryl Jones (who played for Miles Davis in one of his latter day bands!) "Monkey Man" and "Rocks Off' are both under-appreciated selections that, respectively, parody the band's persona and reflect the ennui that comes with rock star stature. "Neighbors" is slight to be sure, but who else is going to keep the spirit of Chuck Berry alive? In this age of lip-syncing, it's downright courageous of Mick to orchestrate "That's How Strong My Love Is," with its majestic horn arrangements, but the Stones own "Beast of Burden." Is a far superior reflection of their soul influences. Other R&B and blues covers—"Rock Me Baby" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" covers sound a bit of a reach on paper in the credits, unless you remember the Rolling Stones began as R&B obsessives, like so many of their young white Brits and American peers of the mid-to-late Sixties. In retrospect, who'd guess you'd hear the band forty years later, backing Solomon Burke with Mick by his side wailin' along.

There's some obvious blemishes to Live Licks —why wouldn't there be? The Stones have as erratic a track record of live and studio releases as any major rock band. Keith Richards' reading of "The Nearness of You" is perversely sentimental, while the guitarist-who-refuses-to-die meanders mawkishly through "You Don't Have to Mean It," suggesting ever so strongly "Happy" should be the only song he sings (unless he exhumes "You Got The Silver" from Let It Bleed ) And the scholarly approach suggested by the inclusion of detailed recording info for the tracks on both discs wouldn't necessarily compromise the Rolling Stones image at this point, but only solidify the unmistakable impression left by the full-throttle momentum the band generates throughout most of this package: they still take themselves seriously and dare us not to do the same.

Visit The Rolling Stones on the web.

Tracks: 1. Brown Sugar; 2. Street Fighting Man; 3. Paint It, Black; 4. You Can't Always Get What You Want; 5. Start Me Up; 6. It's Only Rock N' Roll; 7. Angie Jagger, Richards; 8. Honky Tonk Women Jagger, Richards; 9. Happy Jagger, Richards; 10. Gimme Shelter; 11. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 12. Neighbours; 13. Monkey Man; 14. Rocks Off; 15. Can't You Hear Me Knocking; 16. That's How Strong My Love Is; 17. The Nearness of You; 18. Beast of Burden; 19. When the Whip Comes Down; 20. Rock Me, Baby; 21. You Don't Have to Mean It; 22. Worried About You; 23. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

Personnel: Mick Jagger: vocals, keyboards and harp; Keith Richards: guitar and vocals; Charlie Watts: drums; Ronnie Wood: guitars; Darryl Jones: bass guitar; Chuck Leavell: keyboards; Bernard Fowler: backing vocals; Lisa Fischer: backing vocals; Blondie Chaplin: backing vocals; Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone; Tim Ries: saxophone/keyboards; Michael Davis: trombone; Kent Smith: trumpet; Sheryl Crow; Solomon Burke.

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