As recording artists the Rolling Stones by 1975 were, depending on your perspective, either trudging through a provisional rut or growing accustomed to the status of a legacy act. Their magnum opus, Exile on Main Street, was ensconced three years in the past; their brazen resurgence (or anomalous triumph), Some Girls, lay three years ahead; and their weakest effort in the interim, It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, was what they’d ostensibly mounted their much-hyped Tour of the Americas to promote.
Of course by this point the Stones didn’t need to release a spectacular album to sell concert tickets. Not only was their reputation as live performers arguably unsurpassed in this era but, as evidenced on L.A. Forum (Live in 1975) — recorded during a five-night stand at the Forum, bootlegged for years thereafter, refurbished and most recently released as a DVD/2CD set by Eagle Rock — utterly justified.
With the ever gregarious lead guitarist Ronnie Wood now in tow after having replaced the often taciturn Mick Taylor, the band is especially rambunctious during the 24-song set, even by Stones standards — not unlike Wood’s old mates, The Faces, veritable connoisseurs of errant behavior both on and off the stage. Auxiliary musicians (including percussionist Ollie E. Brown, saxophonist Trevor Lawrence, and keyboardist Billy Preston) no doubt enrich the sound and each man has his moments, but ultimately it’s the Stones stalwarts (Ian Stewart, Bobby Keys) that prove indispensable.
Flamboyant to a fault, Mick Jagger unleashes a primal, savage growl throughout that gives even the ballsiest songs (“Rip This Joint,” “Star Star,” “Brown Sugar”) an added guttural thrust. On the rare ballad (most notably “Angie”) he summons a soul man’s urgent ache, his gruff vocal suggesting Otis Redding’s raw, Southern-bred inspiration. Yet it’s on a torrid, sixteen-minute romp through “Midnight Rambler” that Jagger is at his most intoxicating, at turns humping and writhing atop the stage floor, brandishing his glittered belt like a whip as if in a masochistic fit. It’s a steal-the-show moment in any other band’s show. But this is the Rolling Stones in their prime as live performers, and L.A. Forum (Live in 1975) thrills from start to finish.