The Rolling Stones
El Mocambo 1977 (UME)
Licked Live in NYC (MERCURY)
One of the first (and corniest) observations to be made of two live recordings released around the same time is that whether it’s Toronto’s 300-capacity El Mocambo nightclub or Manhattan’s grand Madison Square Garden, the post-1976 Rolling Stones found intimacy and urgency in every bite. They played small rooms like they were stadiums, and sports arenas like they were grimy basements. Both available on multiple edition vinyl/CD formats (the 2003 MSG recording Licked Live also arriving on the newly reformed Mercury label’s Blu-ray and DVD packages), these two live collections are exceptional examples of the Stones at their grungy, brassy, ballsy finest—and sharp, sad reminders of what it truly means to have lost drummer Charlie Watts.
On the hot heels of punk rock and Keith Richards’ Canadian heroin bust, the possibilities of irrelevancy (which had loomed large since the limp Goats Head Soup) and jail presented the Stones with something that had never before been portrayed in their music: fear. To that end—and the fact of being in a tiny, sweaty club—a genuinely chatty Jagger and co. make haste, rather than their usual wasted sound, and go for the gutsiness of their old blues- and R&B-inspired garage rocker days, including covers of Muddy Waters’ curt “Mannish Boy” and Big Maceo Merriweather’s lost classic “Worried Life Blues.” Still promoting their then-most-recent album Black and Blue, once-languid funksters such as “Hot Stuff” and the taut “Hand of Fate” are more roughly rugged and sweat-filled on the El Mocambo tapes. Even B&B’s flabby ballad “Fool to Cry” is tightened and toughened.
Decades later in the usual arena habitat, the Garden, and in celebration of the unit’s 40th anniversary, The Rolling Stones still manage to bring the swelter and swagger indigenous to small clubs to the big room. The anniversary set list helps: a hard-driving “You Got Me Rocking” segued into “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” an absolutely sexy, snotty, and haunted take on “Monkey Man,” a weary but energetic “Let It Bleed,” and a surprisingly sensuous “Angie,” all those years later.
Rather than be the tight and tiny Stones of Toronto 1977, this crew is wider and more Technicolored, with Darryl Jones’s humble groove deep in the mix (rather than the swooping bass lines of original Stone Bill Wyman), a score of background singers, and a handful of reeds and brass to bolster the temperature of MSG. Even Jagger’s duet with Sheryl Crow on “Honky Tonk Woman” sounds more cunning and charmed than rote—not an easy feat for a 40-year-old band by that point.