Anyone who has been watching the film works of Martin Scorsese since Mean Streets is well-aware of the acclaimed director’s love for the music of the Rolling Stones.
That love is prominently highlighted in the brilliance with which he seems to drop a Jagger/Richards nugget in at the most pivotal moments of each movie: the usage of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as Robert DeNiro’s “Johnny Boy” character walks into the bar in Little Italy during Mean Streets … Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco stashing guns and coke to the tune of “Monkey Man” in Goodfellas … Joe Pesci stabbing some dude in the neck with a pen as “Long Long While” pulses in the background in Casino, and that other scene where DeNiro kicks that cowboy out of his hotel to “Sweet Virginia” … Jack Nicholson giving his “No one gives it to you, you have to take it” speech during The Departed to “Gimme Shelter”—a song which also appears in Goodfellas and Casino as well.
So given his prominent, gratuitous utilization of the Stones’ songbook on celluloid, it should come as no surprise that Mick and the boys would be Marty’s choice for his latest rock ‘n’ roll venture, his first concert film since 1978’s legendary Band doc, The Last Waltz. And while you can certainly argue the point that Scorsese was about 30 years late on capturing the Rolling Stones at the absolute peak of their powers, you simply cannot deny the band delivered one of the best performances of its 45-year career for his camera while filming Shine a Light—one that is captured to maximum excellence on the film’s soundtrack, in particular.
Filmed over the course of two nights, October 29th and November 1st of 2006 at New York’s Beacon Theatre, this two-disc souvenir (a single disc version is also available—why I have no idea) is easily their finest official live release to date. Historically, the Stones were never known to give to give their all when it was known they were being recorded for a live album, as such tepid releases as 1981’s Still Life and 1990’s Flashpoint so undoubtedly signify. If you wanted to own a live Stones album with any sense of the cocksure piss-and-vinegar strut they displayed when the cameras and tapes were turned off (or so they thought), your best bet was to pick up a live bootleg (I suggest 1972’s Nasty Music or 1978’s fiery Detroit Masonic Temple from the Some Girls tour, both of which are out there on the WWW if you look hard enough).
And though 2006’s Live Licks collection certainly had its moments, Shine a Light literally trumps every Stones live album that has ever come out, with the possible exception of Love You Live. While many of the standard crowd favorites are present and accounted for (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Brown Sugar”, “Start Me Up” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” all return for the bajillionth time on a Stones live release), they are all played with a sense of urgency that absolutely smokes any other version you might have heard on a lesser concert LP. Especially “Satisfaction”, which here comes off with the same ferocity the band brought to it in 1965. As far as deep ‘60s cuts go, they bring out Christina Aguilera to vamp up the Let It Bleed rocker “Live With Me”, which is great if you never thought you would hear a pop princess belt out lines like “My best friend he shoots water rats” with a straight face. Jagger shows off his reflective side on an absolutely lovely rendition of “As Tears Go By”, and they even take a trip back into their swingin’ London days by literally stealing back “I’m Free” from the Soupdragons once and for all with a jubilant spin of their Out of Our Heads closing anthem.
And if you want the Stones at their blues-drenched best, look no further than their ferocious rendition of longtime hero Muddy Waters’s “Champagne and Reefer” with special guest Buddy Guy, who takes the sixtysomething-year-old Keith Richards back to school with a headcutting guitar session for the ages. In turn, Keef then proceeds to hold class for Jack White, who opted to keep rhythm on an acoustic guitar during his cameo on “Loving Cup” and let the master do what he does best.
But what makes the performances showcased in Shine a Light such a treat for longtime Stones fans is the inclusion of a few choice nuggets from their late ‘70s output, some of which they hardly ever perform in concert. Anyone who grew up on the sounds of Some Girls and Tattoo You will be absolutely thrilled by the set list here, as tracks like “Shattered”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away from Me)” and “Little T & A” are all prominently featured here. There’s even a run through their 1983 Undercover hit “She Was Hot”. And sure, you can make the case against Jagger’s omission of his little quip about black girls during the Stones’ incredible rendition of “Some Girls” here, but be grateful for the fact they played the title track to their defiant 1978 masterpiece at all, which is then juxtaposed by a wonderfully theatric performance of that album’s country gem “Faraway Eyes”, which is almost never played out live by the band.
As a longtime fan and collector of live Stones stuff, I personally feel that Shine a Light deserves a pivotal place in your listening rotation, especially if you are in search of a quality recent show. For guys in their sixties, Jagger, Richards, Ronnie Woods, and Charlie Watts still play with the sheer force of men half their age. Here’s hoping they all stay fit and healthy enough to keep rocking out this strongly into their seventies (and definitely not sucking, as their notorious 1981 studio compilation implies).