The Rolling Stones needed to get out of England – the quicker the better, before the new tax season started. They had gone on a short nine city “Farewell Tour” of the UK, a month ahead of the release of their Sticky Fingers album, before they found refuge in France to record what would become Exile On Main Street. The tour would be quick and following a show at the Marquee Club in London that was being filmed for a US TV show, they were gone.
You definitely have to give this band credit for not missing an anniversary or special occasion. Amidst a big North American tour and a special edition re-release of Sticky Fingers, comes The Marquee Club, Live In 1971, part of their popular From The Vault series, released via Eagle Rock Entertainment in several formats (DVD/CD, DVD/LP and Blu-ray/CD). A delightful booklet also accompanies this treasure chest, featuring photos and a nice sum up by Richard Havers.
But for fans, the proof of the pudding is the footage. Although it’s not very long, about an hour, give or take, Mick Jagger commands the camera, Keith Richards lays back, about as scruffy as you’ve ever seen him, stepping forward for a few excellent solos and backing vocals; Bill Wyman is stationary, Charlie Watts is keeping the beat without nary a worry of distraction, Mick Taylor is fresh-faced, quietly important to the overall sound; and Bobby Keys and Jim Price blow their hearts out when the songs call for them. Ian Stewart is playing but is invisible, as is Nicky Hopkins and the “notable stars” in the audience, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page among them.
This was an important time in the Stones history. Brian Jones had passed away in the summer of 1969 and the band was really beginning to unify with Taylor’s guitar, as the upcoming Sticky Fingers and Exile would prove. But Richards’ addiction was growing far worse, as his appearance on this DVD shows all too well: unshaven face, mouth full of dying teeth, the feeling that he was about to keel over at any moment – which ended up happening before the session was finished. “What Mick was watching and everybody else, it definitely was the kind of fear of, is Keith walking down the same path that Brian took?” former Rolling Stone journalist Robert Greenfield, who had travelled with the band on that tour, told me in an interview last year about Keith’s condition. “It wound up killing Brian but Keith is, as we know, a horse of a different color.” And yet, the music still sparkles.
Featured in the main section of the DVD are eight songs: two from the previously released Let It Bleed and four new songs from the forthcoming Sticky Fingers. The song “I Got The Blues,” a terrific number showcasing their mixture of country and blues, was not played on the farewell tour like the others and wasn’t played live again until 1999, making this a delectable gem; especially when watched alongside the two alternate takes in the bonus section. While getting their Chuck Berry rocks off on “Let It Rock” and kicking off “Midnight Rambler” with a toned down start, instead of the nasty rambunctious dead riser we are used to, the band’s energy definitely picks up a notch on “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction” that close out the set.
Despite the spirit of the music, the Marquee show was actually befuddled with problems. “The Marquee was a big disaster,” trumpet player Jim Price is quoted as saying in Greenfield’s book Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. “There were a lot of arguments going back and forth between the band and Mick and Keith and the club owner and the director of the film.” Richards was also running late, having been hassled by cops upon exiting his home on Cheyne Walk, and ended up jumping out of his car in front of the venue and leaving it right there in the street still running. Richards would eventually pass out as he was tuning his guitar for “Wild Horses,” causing Jagger to call a halt to the filming then and there.
But it’s such a treat to see the late Bobby Keys wailing away on the sax, peppering Richards’ guitar playing on “Let It Rock” with a scrumptious duet between the two instruments. Taylor, quietly nestled in the back, his body the opposite of the twitching Richards, allowing his fingers to fire up on “Brown Sugar,” “Dead Flowers” and “Midnight Rambler.” Not many players come close to Taylor’s subtlety while at the same time bringing chills up the spine.
A performance of “Brown Sugar” for a 1971 Top Of The Pops show is also in amongst the bonus features, which are primarily alternate takes of “I Got The Blues” and “Bitch,” allowing the tiniest of glimpses into what happens between the songs, similar to what it’s like at a soundcheck, getting the songs ferreted out and smoothing over technical snafus and musical direction differences of opinion.
All in all, the Stones still know how to keep their fans happy, fifty-odd years down the road. With audio and video releases coming out on a semi-regular basis, with restored and enhanced footage and sound mixing, all I can say is: Eagle Rock, keep them coming.