March 31, 2008

Rolling Stones Rule The Killing Floor with Shine A Light Soundtrack

Scoff all you want about their elder status in a young band’s domain. The Rolling Stones still run the Rock & Roll table at will. Issued to coincide with the theatrical release of Martin Scorsese’s film by the same name, the soundtrack to Shine A Light is a brazen, balls-to-the-wall live album.

Recorded over two nights at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in late 2006, the two-disc set comprises twenty-two tracks, four of which are not included in the film. The Stones wisely stick with what works, the most recent track dating back twenty-five years.

Armed with one of popular music’s ultimate catalogs, the band draws out rarities and hits with deliberate intent, brandishing them like select weaponry. Tenacious rockers abound – like “All Down The Line,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Shattered,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – while Charlie Watts keeps time with unassuming command.

Mick Jagger delivers more than a few electrifying performances, seldom sounding complacent, always exuding his roguish charisma. He swaggers through “Some Girls” and “Tumbling Dice” in inimitable cocksure form. He imparts “As Tears Go By” and “Faraway Eyes” with marked sincerity and, in the case of the latter, with a suitable honky-tonk twang. And he metes out an acerbic rendition of “Sympathy For The Devil,” his embodiment of Lucifer not only seeming absolute, but also strikingly appropriate.

Keith Richards, of course, musters up his own highlights at the microphone, as when he digs into “You Got the Silver,” singing out his ancient soul and trading dirty licks with Ronnie Wood. As well, on “Connection,” he shovels through the propulsive obscurity with certifiable cool.

Invited or not, artists who tread onto the Stones’ stage face an inherent risk, namely that they wind up looking foolish while attempting to hold sway with their hosts. Either they play it too safe or they try too hard, both scenarios rendering the same fate. Jack White, for instance, joins in on “Loving Cup,” but what should have inspired an assault of solos and riffs instead dwindles down to what sounds like a wholesome vocal duet. Conversely, all Christina Aguilera has to do is sing “Live With Me” with Jagger, but she exaggerates her voice – which ascends from wailing to howling to squealing – and overwhelms the song.

Leave it to Buddy Guy to get it just right. On the Muddy Waters barnstormer, “Champagne & Reefer,” the bluesman makes his total presence known, his booming voice and crying guitar steamrolling through – if not over – the playing of his loyal protégés. Damn right he’s got the blues and, at least for the duration of this song, Buddy Guy owns the Stones’ stomping ground too.

In the end, though, the Rolling Stones stand alone, getting their rocks off unrivaled and free to do what they want any old time. They’ve long deemed the concert stage as a killing floor. As a live album, Shine A Light exhibits how their enduring dominance still decimates lesser bands to nothing more than charlatans in their shadow, victims in their wake.