Review Summary: An above-average (by the band's standards) live album from one of rock's most celebrated acts. Nevertheless, it noticeably lacks much of the film's punch.
Is there anything Martin Scorsese can't do? The greatest living director (and easily in the top ten of all-time), he's crafted four or five of the greatest movies ever made, and the rest range from near-classics to "merely" damn good. But he's also made a name for himself as a notable documentarian who films subjects that shaped his life and art. First, he crafted what is generally accepted to be the best concert film of all time with the brilliant and innovative The Last Waltz
, a movie so elegant it's easy to miss just how dour the actual concert was. Then he went and made the best artist retrospective with No Direction Home
, which managed to shed more light on Dylan than ever before whilst wisely ensuring that all the myths were left shrouded in mystery. Then Scorsese decided to film his all-time favorite band, a group whose music is almost synonymous with his films. Armed with a platoon of Oscar-nominated and -winning cinematographers, the director ended up shooting the most beautiful-looking and intimate concert film I've ever seen.
So beautiful and intimate, in fact, that the songs suffer when stripped from the visuals. Right from the start, you lose a little something in the transition: the concert opens with a blast as Keith Richards, bent over at some impossible angle, lurches through the opening bars of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” only for Jagger to leap in out of nowhere and send the energy levels into the red. But on CD, all you get is Richards forgetting where he is at the start and playing some bars from later in the song as Jagger’s cocky howl has given way to a timeworn almost beat-poet like delivery. Thankfully he starts properly singing later, but this audio-only presentation robs a killer start of its power.
Likewise, other numbers suffer in the absence of the accompanying video: Jack White’s contribution on “Loving Cup” was a bit out of place to begin with, but here it sounds downright unbearable. It’s so bad I had to struggle to think why I didn’t hate it even with the video. Band staples like “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up” sound tighter, but lack a great deal of the spark Jagger brings with his mad dance moves. Jagger’s duet with Christina Aguilera on “Live With Me” loses its salacious interaction, though that may not be such a bad thing after all. Bizarrely, the older the Stones get the more you need to see them grooving along to appreciate the impact of the tunes.
Nevertheless, there’s a great deal to love here. The Stones, who have dumped out an almost-obscene amount of passable live albums in the last two decades, were smart enough to realize that even with Scorsese filming them they needed something to set this apart. So, they combed through the vaults and cherry-picked a setlist comprised of all sorts of rarities. After the band blisters through JJF and “Shattered,” they offer up “She Was Shot” from the widely forgotten Undercover
. Later, they even give Keith the mike for “You Got The Silver,” which retains all his sly peevishness even without the visuals. Most surprising is the inclusion of “As Tears Go By,” by most accounts the first song Jagger and Richards ever wrote. To be honest, it shows, but the Stones play it with such conviction that your average listener could barely discern it from the rest of the tunes. And let’s not forget the absolutely scorching version of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer” performed with Buddy Guy, a killer rendition that offers definite proof that the Stones weren’t completely privileged white Brits ripping off the blues; they know how to bring it when they must.
These selections perhaps limit the target audience to die-hards – I admit I got a kick out of all the teenagers in the front rows looking a little unsure at times on the DVD – but they also stand as a good place to demonstrate the power of this band, particularly at this stage in the game. Just listen to the Exile on Main Street
cuts “All Down the Line” and the killer “Tumbling Dice:” the former gets tightened and focused while the band stretches out the latter into a much looser, groovy number. They aren’t major, jazz-like improvisations, but they show a band that knows how to tweak a great song into something not necessarily better but fresh and exciting.
Ultimately, I’m a bit hesitant to recommend the soundtrack of Shine a Light
to the average customer. Now, the film I’ll push like heroin to a first-time user; it’s easily one of the greatest concert films ever made, an intimate yet commanding performance from a band that by all logic should have ended in tragedy circa 1972. The audio (which includes some performances not seen in the film and leaves some that were in it off the list) loses a considerable amount of energy, but it also retains enough power and spontaneity on its varied setlist that even some causal fans could find something to love.