Mick Jagger - vocals, guitar, harmonica; Keith Richards - rhythm guitar, vocals; Mick Taylor - lead and slide guitar, vocals; Bill Wyman - bass; Charlie Watts - drums; Billy Preston - organ; Ian Stewart - piano; Jim Horn - horns; Bobby Keys - sax
In May of 1969, the joyously decadent single, "Honky Tonk Woman," signaled the beginning of the second and arguably greatest era of the Rolling Stones. Featuring a 21-year-old Mick Taylor on lead guitar, this song and the subsequent tour to follow would certify The Stones as the most compelling, if not greatest rock and roll band in the world. Over the course of Taylor's live performing tenure with the band (1969-1973), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were at the pinnacle of their songwriting powers, writing many of the classics that have come to define the band. As much as Jagger and Richards were enamored by the blues, it was Mick Taylor's virtuosity that gave the band what they had been searching for since the beginning. Taylor's keen ear for harmonics and incredibly fluid style was free of clichés, giving the band an authenticity and power previously only hinted at.
Over the course of the next four years, The Stones would deliver some of their most outstanding albums, including Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, all featuring significant contributions from Taylor. Although the next studio album, Goat's Head Soup, would find the band struggling to match the previous efforts, as a live band they were at their most penetrating, capable of delivering searing performances that could exhaust an audience with their sheer raw power and energy. Such was the case during September and October of 1973, when The Stones embarked on a European Tour that would go down in history as one of the most drug-fueled and decadent of all time. Midway through the tour, Richards underwent a 3-day hemodialysis treatment that gradually filtered the heroin from his bloodstream in an effort to get off the drug. This event led to the rumor that Keith was having regular blood transfusions to survive his habit. Although untrue, this was widely accepted as fact and added to the already decadent impression of the band.
The Stones recorded much of this tour in hopes of releasing a live album and, although superb recordings and performances were captured, a tangled mess of legal complications thwarted an official release. Legally prevented from releasing any song previously released on Decca or published by ABKCO, this made a live album virtually impossible at that time. In an alternate effort to get some of these outstanding performances heard, the band provided a composite recording to the then fledgling King Biscuit Flower Hour, which had begun transmitting live performances on their weekly syndicated radio show earlier that year. The bulk of the material was sourced from two October 17th performances in Brussels, with a few choice cuts sourced from London and possibly Rotterdam earlier in the tour.
Here are a few songs from that legendary recording. For those who consider the Mick Taylor era to be the peak of The Stones as a relevant live band, this recording features some of the best live performances ever captured. Here the band allows the music to say all that needs to be said. No pyrotechnics, projected visuals or over-the-top theatrics were needed - just blistering hot performances by a band inspired to play.
The tightness of the rhythm section and Jagger's powerful vocals fuel these songs, but what is immediately most impressive is the interplay between Richards propulsive riffing and Taylor's fluid leads. This is on display on two tracks from Exile On Main Street: Richards' "Happy," (where he actually manages to remember most of the lyrics) and an infectious romp through "Tumbling Dice," where the band rocks out with joyous abandon. Two tracks from Goat's Head Soup follow and both far surpass the studio recordings. Keyboard virtuoso Billy Preston adds authentic New Orleans flavor to the swampy feel of "Dancin' With Mr. D" and "Angie" is far more engaging without all the string embellishments and a more heartfelt vocal from Jagger.
Musically this is The Stones at their very best, rarely to be technically or emotionally surpassed after this tour. They may not have known it at the time, but it is even more confounding that Mick Taylor's last gig was just a few days later! Still, this remains a great final document of this era in the band's history. The band would never be quite as relevant or consistently compelling on stage after Taylor's departure. These performances are among the best ever captured of The Stones during the Taylor-era, at a time when all the musicians were burning with raw energy and truly inspired on stage.
-Written by Alan Bershaw