Newark Star-Ledger on Rock 'n' Roll Circus DVD

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Oct 10 06:20:10 CDT 2004

A rock 'n' roll time capsule
Sunday, October 10, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

Filmed in the swinging London of December 1968, "The
Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus" embodies both the
pretensions and possibilities of those heady, halcyon
days for pop music. The faintly surreal extravaganza
juxtaposes druggy showbiz hedonism with the simple,
childlike joy in dressing up and performing. It also

Long suppressed by the Stones -- who feared that the
Who's feral performance showed them up -- their "Rock
'n' Roll Circus" now makes its definitive appearance
as an expanded DVD, following the 1996 bare bones
release on VHS and CD. 

Designed as an affectionate send-up of the shabby
circuses that long toured the British hinterlands, the
Stones' "Circus" was pitched in a big-top set complete
with clowns and fire-eaters. "Ready Steady Go"
director Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot the spectacle
through the day and night, with introductions by
costumed rockers in sundry states of stoned. 

Along with the Who, the Stones' circle of attractions
included pop ingénue Marianne Faithfull (Mick Jagger's
girlfriend at the time). Jagger also brought along his
discoveries of Jethro Tull from England and Taj Mahal
from the U.S. Then there was the super-group, dubbed
the Dirty Mac, featuring John Lennon backed by Eric
Clapton, Keith Richards (on bass) and Jimi Hendrix
Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. 

The Dirty Mac torch Lennon's "Yer Blues," the
Mississippi-via-Mersey Delta-rock primal scream from
the Beatles' "White Album." If Lennon's soul and
Clapton's solos are as riveting as expected, Richards'
virtuosic bass is a marvel. A DVD bonus offers a
four-screen split view of the second take, with one
close-up revealing an appreciative exchange of smiles
between Lennon and Richards. 

Counter to Pete Townshend's self-deprecating comments
in a bonus interview, the Who's performance of its
sardonic mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away" was
obviously the night's highlight. The road-honed
quartet has confidence and charm to burn as it roars
through its eight-minute piece of pre-'Tommy" rock 'n'
roll theater. The band's harmonies are razor-sharp,
and Townshend windmills his way to a thrilling climax.

Townshend is right when he says that it's apparent
that "something strange is going on for the Stones."
Guitarist Brian Jones was a lost soul, soon to be
booted from the band (and to die not long after). But
Townshend is also correct when he insists that the
Stones, Jagger in particular, fascinate. In the wee
hours, when everyone else is dragging or drunk, the
slim-hipped ringleader shimmies and insinuates
tirelessly through "Jumping Jack Flash" and the new
"Sympathy for the Devil." 

Although they sound thin (even in Surround Sound), the
Stones eventually lock into a hypnotized, hypnotizing
groove. "Parachute Woman" is lewd and lowdown, with
Richards taking up the slack in Jones' spiritual
absence. Best, though, is a moving, irony-free version
of "No Expectations" with Richards on acoustic and a
momentarily with-it Jones on slide guitar. 

Of the sideshows, Faithfull is a vision in a low-cut,
plum-hued gown, but she also turns "Something Better"
into oddly compelling cabaret. Mahal and his
blues-rock band cook through "Ain't That a Lot of
Love," with the DVD debuting three extra Mahal
performances. The sight of concert pianist Julius
Katchen playing Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance" with an
audience in day-glo ponchos behind him is time-capsule

Some acts in this spectacle do fall flat. Jethro
Tull's Celtic hobo blues is just bizarre. And footage
of Yoko Ono yowling along with the Dirty Mac and a
plainly bemused classical violinist Ivry Gitlis proves
that breaking up the Beatles wasn't her only crime
against music. The "bonus" of a recent Fatboy Slim
remix of "Sympathy for the Devil" isn't much better. 

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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