The Rolling Stones – Brussels Affair (Live 1973)

Brussels Affair (Live 1973) (2011)

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1. Brown Sugar 2. Gimme Shelter 3. Happy 4. Tumbling Dice 5. Starfucker 6. Dancing With Mr. D 7. Heartbreaker 8. Angie 9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want 10. Midnight Rambler 11. Honky Tonk Women 12. All Down The Line 13. Rip This Joint 14. Jumpin’ Jack Flash 15. Street Fighting Man

 

With the future of the Stones as an active recording and touring unit increasingly up in the air due to a combination of old age, arthritis and Mick being pissy about Keith’s comments in his autobiography about his, um, “todger,” the Stones have finally decided to open up the vaults. Pretty much all their classic rock peers have been bleeding their own vaults dry for years, releasing multiple concerts from the same tour or reissuing their classic albums over and over again with extra material knowing that many of their stupid baby boomer fans are unfamiliar with how the internet works and thus will keep buying them. But the Stones, up until last year, had resisted such temptations. Mick’s attitude seems to be that releasing outtakes and other older unreleased material compromises their status as a working band. But he’s either changed his mind or decided he’d rather hang out with SuperHeavy, a “supergroup” so horrifyingly awful it inalterably damages the credibility of the already violently raped descriptor “supergroup,” than work with the Stones anymore. Either way, deluxe reissues of Exile and Some Girls featuring select studio outtakes recently appeared, followed by a virtually unpublicized deal with Google Music that will see the release of five previously unreleased concerts from Stones tours past as digital downloads only. Weird decision on the medium, of course—I have no doubt it was strictly a business decision, since Mick has made it perfectly clear that the bottom line is way more important to him than even attempting to pretend to care about his fans’ convenience—but the content is something hardcore Stones fans like myself have been wanting for years.

The first of the five installments is the long-overdue official release of Brussels Affair, perhaps the most beloved live Stones bootleg ever, culled from two shows at a stop in Brussels on their fall 1973 European tour in support of Goats Head Soup. The shows were typical end-of-tour performances – bombastic as hell, and full of extended, wank-filled jams. Not exactly what the Stones are known for, or were best at, when compared with their peers during that era (like Led Zeppelin, for instance), perhaps. But, by this point, soloist extraordinaire Mick Taylor had pretty much taken to dominating the Stones’ live act. The ‘73 tour, interestingly, turned out to be MT’s last with the band. And after four years with the band, and particularly after the legendary 1972 North American tour in support of Exile, Little Mick was more than fully integrated – he had altered the nature of the band’s guitar attack. Never before or since had there been such an obvious dichotomy between lead and rhythm guitar in the Stones, with Keith zonked out and relying almost exclusively on his two finger open tuning rhythm riffs while Taylor was at the absolute height of his powers. Don’t get me wrong, Keef is bashing away like a lion here, and hoarsely shouts his way through “Happy” like it’s the last song he’ll ever sing on earth, but MT is the center of attention. And man oh man, he sounds like he could sustain that butter-smooth Les Paul tone until Jesus comes back. As shy as he seemed on stage, standing stone faced and virtually motionless just to the right of Charlie’s kit, his playing is just the opposite as far as boldness goes. Some of the licks and solos he tears off here—as it was throughout the ’72-’73 height of live Stonesdom—are simply jaw dropping.

The version of Brussels already familiar to fans was originally taken from a radio broadcast, so the sound quality was extremely high in the first place, but the new remix makes it sound better than ever. Sonically, at least. See, the original bootleg featured mostly songs from the October 17 afternoon show, plus a couple of selections from a run of September London shows. This release, on the other hand, is comprised almost completely of (mostly inferior) takes from the October 17 evening show. Who knows why they chose the takes they did – maybe Keith preferred the looser evening versions. The most glaring omissions are the best ever versions of “Tumbling Dice” and “Heartbreaker,” but we still get delicious treats like an electrified “Angie,” a furious, raga-like “Street Fighting Man” and an epic rearrangement of “You Can’t Always Can’t What You Want” that swaps out the backup choirs and tempo changes for lengthy guitar and saxophone solos. In fact, it sounds to me like “Brown Sugar” and “Midnight Rambler” are the only common takes between the bootleg and official versions. And thank goodness for that, since this 13-minute version of “Midnight Rambler” may in fact be the greatest live performance of anything EVER. It’s like the aural equivalent of sex. Really. Just listen to it.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next four, as of yet unspecified installments of this bootleg series thing. I was skeptical that an official release of Brussels would ever appear, and I’m thrilled that it finally did. Hopefully they keep the vault doors open going forward.



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