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The Rolling Stones: From the Vaults

21/11/2014 20:31 GMT | Updated 21/01/2015 10:59 GMT

When it comes to mining their archive, The Stones severely lag behind their peers, displaying that cool, almost cruel indifference to audience demand in the same way they only let Mick Taylor play lead on one number on their current tour.

As I write this, with Taylor Swift trying the withdrawal method when it comes to Spotify, and paid-for music about as quaint an idea as a journey by horse and carriage, rock'n'roll's founding fathers Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard - the Stones have played with em all, as pups or hounds, at different points in their career - are still alive and kicking but rock n roll, like the album as a dominant art form, is dead. For half a century, the long player, along with the 90-minute feature and 30-minute sitcom, was the dominant form of the age. As the Stones tour in their 51st year, delivering concerts of a calibre no fan or critic has any right to expect, they are broadcasting on a signal that will wink out, like a dying star, once those guitars, strings, skins, sticks and vocal chords fall silent, and all that's left are the recordings. But what recordings. It's possible there'll be one more new Stones studio album before they stop - though even the concept of 'album' has a slightly heritage, National Trust ring to it now, as if it comes with a gift shop - but glistering jewels are still to be found in the vaults, stuffed with what they recorded in their decadent, druggy pomp, and never released.

Aside from the so-so Metamorphosis of the mid 1970s, virtually nothing came from the band's archives until five years ago. The first, in 2009, just as the whole idea of physical product in the music industry was entering freefall, was ABKO's boxed set of the 1969 live album Get Yer Ya Yas Out, with added BB King and Tina Turner; then came expanded versions of Exile on Main Street and Some Girls, with the outtakes tarted up with new vocals and guitar bits. In 2012, a series of internet-download concerts ranging from 1973s Brussels Affair through to a club date in Toronto from 2005 proved to be the tastiest archive cuts of all. The Stones, at last, had climbed on board the steam train to the illustrious past that the likes of Dylan, The Who and Beatles had enjoyed since Dylan's Biograph boxed set of 1985 more or less launched the dominant backwards look of rock culture.

A beefed-up Sticky Fingers is rumoured to be on the slate for release in the next year or so, once the Stones have come to the end of their On Fire tour, while circulating bootlegs from Goats Head Soup through to Black and Blue - the likes of the brilliant Criss Cross Man or the motoric, hypnotic instrumental groove of Munich Hilton - indicate that all the band's 1970s output could come as expanded releases.

Looking further back, their classic 1960s recordings are a more complex contractual mire, given the history of Allen Klein's involvement that saw the Stones lose the rights to all their 1960s work, though the expanded Ya-Yas did point at least to the potential of more unreleased gems, such as the 1963 IBC studio sessions, or live at the Paris Olympia, 1966.

In the meantime, this month saw the release of two full-length concert films with accompanying CDs and vinyl, from the 1975 Tour of the Americas and the Tattoo You trek of 1981. The Tour of the Americas was Ronnie Wood's first tour of duty, busy and fleet fingered around Keef's frankly brutalist, angular riffing at its crushing, decadent, sloppy best. By 1981, Wood was in a crystallised, freebasing condition of disrepair - compare his work on two great, but wildly different takes on You Can't Always Get What You Want - while Richards, on his 38th birthday, is clean, inventive and brilliant. Tumbling Dice, for instance, extends into a play-out groove of hypnotic rhythmic delight that only Richards' sense of time and space - and when to strike - could summon up. Was this the last time they focused so much on new music when they took the stage? More than half of the Hampton set comprises songs from Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. These days, all they've got is Doom & Gloom.

The 1975 set is the more totemic, and the most fun. It's filmed from the front, back and sides, suitably murky and the stage clothes for one, are fantastically absurd, the Lotus Stage enjoyable ludicrous, the inflatable penis (well, a finger) for Star Star beyond parody, and while Jagger's vocals are slurred they're not as ragged as they'd become in Europe the following year, and you've got an Afro'd Billy Preston and very tall percussionist Ollie Brown (now a successful Californian realtor) expanding the sound. Charlie Watts is the lead player - his drumming on the night is quite brilliant, and he looks great with his bonehead haircut.

The 1975 show was apparently filmed on 12th July, a Saturday, the fourth in the band's run of five nights at the LA Forum, but curiously, the CD that comes with the film duplicates the download release of LA Friday, which is, confusingly, from the final Sunday night show. And Stones aficionados are insistent that the film is in fact from the Friday 11th show. Do these things matter? What's important is that the Sunday-night CD set is an altogether cleaner, more assured affair, while Saturday night's music - the set that was filmed - is ragged and wild, with lengthy percussive, one-chord, tune-up intros of remarkable funkiness that lead in to fantastically punishing raved-up versions of Street Fighting Man and Jumpin Jack Flash, especially. On the latter, Richards' guitar falls silent half way through, peels off a few feedback signals, and you wonder if the guitarist has popped out the back, behind the stacks, for refreshments. Then the furious, fractured chords he rips off the strings on his return put you in little doubt. It's not just that he punishes the riff and drives it to a frantic dervish conclusion, but that he virtually kneecaps it and resurrects it with an extraordinarily lean sense of raw purpose and power. That, ladies and gentlemen, was rock and roll.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9N3rMTQUgk

Video copyright: Eagle Rock