The Rolling Stones: Hyde Park Live 1969 (DVD REVIEW)

It was 1969. Early July, to be exact. A warm day with scattered white clouds moving across the sky as an array of mostly young bohemians made their way into London’s Hyde Park for a free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones. Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, barefoot and wearing a diaphanous lace dress, was one of the congregation that morning, going to the park to see the Third Ear Band, who were playing early. In her 2014 memoir, she remembered the atmosphere as being “laden with sadness,” as Stones founding member Brian Jones, the one who, as Stones bass player Bill Wyman declared, “Through his vision of music and his lifestyle was the inventor and inspiration of the Rolling Stones,” had suddenly passed away two nights before the concert. “We wondered,” Albertine wrote, “how the Stones were going to handle the whole thing, if they’d ignore it or if they even cared that he was dead.”

In a hotel room not far away, the solemnness in the park was noticeable around the band. They had decided against canceling the concert, instead, as drummer Charlie Watts suggested, to make it into a memorial and tribute to their fallen bandmate whom had recently officially stepped out of the band whose music “is not to my taste anymore,” as he proclaimed in a released statement. Although the Hyde Park show was originally intended to introduce former John Mayall Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor as the Stones newest guitar player and get the band back into momentum for a new tour and record, it became, in hindsight, a memorial service highlighting Jones’ love of blues, love of adulation, and his once deep love of performing.

Filmed for television, the concert has become iconic in Stones lore as the precursing illusion of peace, love and harmony between band and fans that was supposed to continue at their American free concert later that year; an assumption that became deadly at Altamont, almost bringing the Stones to their proverbial knees. But on this beautiful late afternoon, as Mick Jagger read from PB Shelley’s Adonais that he is not dead, he doth not sleep, he hath awakened from the dream of life and that we are the ones lost in stormy visions, in eulogy to his brother in blues arms; as white butterflies were released to float amongst the mourners-turned-celebrators; and before he himself shed his white long-sleeved dress symbolizing unspoken purity of souls loved and lost; it was the music that was going to be celebrated.

The Rolling Stones and Eagle Rock Entertainment have once again united to bring us another gem from the vaults: The Rolling Stones: Hyde Park Live 1969. Basically, it’s the television documentary that was released a few months later, just enhanced a bit here and there, and unfortunately retaining the jumbled up setlist (notice butterflies before the butterflies have been released). There are scenes from an interview with Jagger, an elderly lady attempting to explain the godliness of the harp, swastika clad Hell’s Angels praising the Stones’ music, and footage of the band holed up in their hotel room, waiting, fidgeting, laughing nervously, prior to their shuttle to the park.

Although Wyman recollected in his autobiography, Stone Alone, that “Brian’s death, our lack of roadwork, the introduction of a number of new songs and a lack of rehearsals all conspired against us,” the show is now a delicious petit four of the Rolling Stones going from softly sentimental to nastily raucous, all within the time span of just over an hour. A lot has been said about their sound that day, from critics to the band members themselves, about how bad it actually was, it still stands out if only for the song “I’m Yours & I’m Hers,” a tune that led off Johnny Winter’s sophomore eponymous album that had just been released in June; a song Richards suggested they lead off with. To take that song, put their British tilt on it with some muddy swamp slide and a humping rhythm, the Stones stole it and owned it and, from what I understand, never played it again. What a shame. It would have been perfect on their 1972 tour.

Whether you consider this Hyde Park show as an homage for Jones or a crowning of his replacement Taylor, it’s worth popping into the player numerous times, as their performance is devoid of a slick polish, which began to appear in later years, leaving just the freedom of spontaneous expression: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Love In Vain,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “I’m Free,” “Satisfaction,” an elongated “Sympathy For The Devil,” and the aforementioned diamond in the rough, “I’m Yours & I’m Hers.”

“We always enjoyed performing,” Jagger says in one of the interview bits. “I always felt The Beatles sort of did it, when they were big, they did it kind of, it wasn’t really their forte. Their forte was songwriting and making records. Ours was doing concerts.” And no one can take a crowd of people into the palm of their hand quite like Jagger. He wiggles, shimmies, pouts, struts, laughs, sings and motions for you to come together and join his hormonal jubilation. Keith Richards handles the beef of the guitar parts but Taylor, a picture of Galahadian innocence, does have shining moments, especially on slide, despite his sometimes look of fear. Albertine remembers him looking mortified, most noticeably when girls start climbing onto the stage attempting to touch Jagger and being hauled off quite physically. And Watts is unexpectedly noticeably intense, hitting his drums harder than usual, even with a gaggle of butterflies alit on his green shirt.

What could have made this DVD better would have been the inclusion of the other songs performed at the show: “Mercy Mercy,” “Stray Cat Blues,” “No Expectations,” “Down Home Girl,” “Loving Cup,” and “Street Fighting Man.” Some of this footage does indeed exist and was included on a previously released tape. Those extra songs, whether video or audio, would have made this more complete. As would have putting them back in their proper order. But as it is, you can’t go wrong adding it to your collection and watching it often. I’ve watched it for years and never been bored.

On a final note about the Stones in 1969, they would release Let It Bleed in December, having kicked off their American tour a month before. The album would feature Jones on only two tracks, neither one is he actually playing his signature guitar, a sad requiem for a once talented, vital member of the greatest band in the world.

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