Seven Hours of Banging

With seven hours of footage on four discs, the newly released Rolling Stones’ The Biggest Bang four DVD set features two concerts in their entirety from the band’s Bigger Bang tour and countless snippets on the road, from what has become the biggest selling rock tour of all time. Despite the sentimental decision to credit the film’s executive producer as being the late Ian Stewart, the box set was conceived by the Stones and their tour promoter Michael Cohl, in conjunction with his company Concert Productions International, in conjunction with the band. Their last joint effort, the Four Flicks DVD set, sold 19 million copies, and ranks as the highest selling full-length concert DVD in U.S. history. A masterpiece film documenting the band’s Forty Licks tour, Four Flicks historically noteworthy performance footage includes essential tour highlights that includes film from the Stones’ show in Los Angeles at the comparatively intimate Wiltern Theater, one of the most coveted tickets of the tour. Like its predecessor Four Flicks, The Biggest Bang is available exclusively through Best Buy.

On The Biggest Bang, clearly, the climax of the DVD set is the band’s Rio De Janeiro gig, a free concert attended by one and a half million people. It is here in the four disc set where the cinematography is at its strongest, and the cameras angles are at their best, when the intensity builds in the face of the challenges the crew has to overcome in order to generate the perfect sound, band security and crowd control. The Rio show is seen in its entirety, along with a mini-documentary noting the immense preparations needed to successfully manuever this ambitious event.

The other full-length concert in the box set is the band’s date in Austin, Texas at Zilker Park on October 22, 2006. If it’s true that everything is bigger in Texas, it was certainly true when it came to the Pirate Code, with Stones guitarist Keith Richards, always a seemingly incandescedent site, with his grey eye shadow, black eyeliner, gripping one of his blond Fender guitars as the band opens the show, railing into ”You Got Me Rockin.” Looking absolutely fabulous in a gold jacket, Richards, often seen in the film interacting with bassist Darryl Jones, is joined on guitar by Ronnie Wood, as well as Blondie Chaplin, who despite his guitar playing, is solely credited on the DVD as a vocalist. Additionally on back-up vocals are Bernard Fowler, along with Lisa Fischer, who knowingly steals the show more than once in this package, notably on vocals with Jagger during ”Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” ”Gimme Shelter,” and on one of the Stones’ best live tracks, ”Sympathy For The Devil.” Additional musicians with the band include hornsman Tim Reiss, Ken Smith on trumpet, trombonist Michael Davis, and the legendary Bobby Keys on sax. The band played songs from a myriad spectrum of their musical time vault. During the Austin gig, the band plays a transfixing musical tribute to Buddy Holly with ”Learning The Game” and a rendition of Waylon Jennings’ ”Bob Wills Is Still The King.”

In the film’s extras, the only real personal insight displayed interestingly comes from drummer Charlie Watts, who in an overly modest confessional, laments what he feels are his weak points as a percussionist. It is almost surreal listening to him talk about his regrets as a musician, given his immense playing ability. Arguably, the Stones have the greatest rhythm section in rock and roll. In an impromptu offstage segment, Bernard Fowler, an eloquent vocalist, sings a jazz version of ”Miss You,” accompanied by Watts. This is not surprising, given Watt’s past works with Fowler, including the exquisite album, Long Ago And Far Away.

In various scenes, Mick Jagger is dons a rust colored, feathered coat with a matching red feathered hat, as the frenetically prancing lead singer struts his stuff in his newschool pimped out attire. While performing ”Midnight Rambler,” with Jagger on harp, the band switches syncompations, going into their ”Oh, don’t you do that” vamp; Jagger vamps down the ramp with more swagger than a model on the runway.

The film also casts light on the B-stage, where the band plays songs from its repertoire that include ”Miss You,” ”Rough Justice,” ”Get Off My Cloud” and ”Honky Tonk Women.”

Among the featured guests on the disc is blues artist Bonnie Raitt, who performs the spiritual number ”Shine A Light” from the band’s masterpiece album Exile On Main Street. This marks her first stints with the Stones, as Raitt had just joined the Stones to open shows with them three days before in Los Angeles, the city the band had returned to yet once again during the Bigger Bang soujourn, making the City Of Angels the last U.S. date of the tour. Raitt had just punctuated that last U.S. by date performing ”Dead Flowers” at Dodger Stadium. Now, for the final North American tour date, Raitt is seen on the DVD, performing with the band at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. Other special guest in The Biggest Bang package include Pearl Jam’s Eddy Vedder, who sits in for ”Wild Horses.” For those who can not hear enough versions of that song, as with The Biggest Bang, Bernard Fowler’s 2006 solo album, Friends With Privileges, is also worth scoring. Like Fowler, Chaplin also released a solo album in 2006, Between Us, a splendidly produced and thoughtfully constructed, eloquent disc on Big Karma Records.

The band is checked into their hotel in Brazil. What happens at the Cocacabana Hotel in Rio De Janiero stays at the Cococabana, as the film keeps the band members’ private lives private, with the footage in the film solely limited to showing scenes of their public life on the tour. Therefore, do not expect to see the likes Bobby Keys and Keith Richards throwing TV sets off the balcony of a hotel window, ala Robert Frank’s unreleased film that sits on one this writer’s shelves. There is much going on around the band that is seen in The Biggest Bang, however. The logistics of the Rio show are documented in the film, as are the work-related responsibilities of a number of members of the crew. Inflatable tongues punctuate the film, as seen during the live shows.

Licensed film of the Superbowl performance in Detroit is coupled with a discussion of the censorship that surrounds the half-time show subsequent to Janet Jackson’s ”wardrobe misfunction.” Jagger humorously remarks, ”Hopefully both of us still have our core values in tact.” Don Was, producer of the Bigger Bang album, appears to make a sardonic remark about the television network’s effort ”to protect the family values of the planet earth.”

Richards discusses his having written the folk song ”Hurricane” in 2002, then later donating it in order to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina Relief.

Jagger makes light of the hypocrisy and the arbitrary, hence absurd nature of censorship. It was an extremely difficult, slow, and arduous process for the band to be granted permission to play in China. The DVD details the band’s first show there, along with their arrival. The Stones are given a list of songs that they can not play, which includes ”Beast Of Burden,” ”Honky Tonk Women,” ”Brown Sugar” and ”Let’s Spend The Night Together,” about which Jagger remarks, ”You can blame that one on Ed Sullivan.” Jagger and Leavell express their amusement surrounding the abusurdity of the selection of songs that the Chinese government has chosen to ban the Stones from playing in its country, a place where its citizens can only purchase lyrically censored versions of Rolling Stones albums. At a press conference in Shanghai, Jagger approaches the topic in a tongue and cheek manner, stating, ”I am pleased the Minister Of Culture is protecting the morals of the ex pat bankers and their girlfriends who are going to turn up (to the show).” Ironically, the Chinese government allows the band to perform the song ”Bitch,” which they do at full tilt. The Stones also play ”Wild Horses,” this time with musical guest, Cui Jian, a Chinese recording artist. When discussing China, Richards, still thrillingly lifelike in his handcuffs, scarves and trademark skull ring, stays true to the Pirate Code, uttering, ”You tell me I can’t go somewhere, I’m going to find a way in.”

The DVD offers visual clips from hotspots on the tour that include The Hollywood Bowl, New York and the Bay Area. There is more from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Jagger plays keyboard during a memorable version of ”Worried About You,” complete with a falsetto voice and a one-phrase rap. Saitama, Japan and Tokyo Dome are also in the mix.

With more than fifty songs performed on The Biggest Bang, further highlights from the film include haunting back-up vocals from Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, and Woody’s inspired soloing during ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Richards’ signature anthem ”Happy,” and the painfully expressive ballad ”This Place Is Empty” are among the film’s highlights.

A kind of subliminal running theme, Richards arrives in various destinations, stating, ”It’s good to be here. It’s good to be anywhere.” One love.

PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog.