There’s that Almost Famous scene in which the pushy antagonist Dennis Hope (played by a 25-year-old Jimmy Fallon) is trying to persuade Stillwater, at the heretofore height of their career, to let him be their manager. He says this period, summer ’73-ish, is a crucial one for the band, and that they should be taking advantage of every opportunity they get, which is of course where he comes in. To illustrate his point, he says that “if you think you’re going to see Mick Jagger trying to be a rock star at age 50” – he does this weird shimmy, a move decidedly unlike Jagger – “you are sadly, sadly mistaken.”
Almost Famous was released in 2000, when in real time The Rolling Stones‘ frontman was 57. Jagger turned 70 last Friday and was just short of the septuagenarian life when Hyde Park Live, an iTunes-only release, was recorded earlier this month. Unlike the 72-year-old Bob Dylan, who is a different story altogether, mobility-wise, Jagger is very much capable of exhibiting all the affability and surging energy we expect from our biggest frontmen. This is one of the main points hammered home on Hyde Park, that the Stones as a live concern are still a mass-culture spectacle not much less exciting than they were four decades ago.
“How many of you were here in 1969?” Jagger asks at one point, referring to the famous show at Hyde Park attended by 200,000 or so fans. That was Mick Taylor’s first show with the band, and the Stones have brought the guitarist back to add to what was clearly supposed to be an especially commemorative gig (Bobby Keys, who added his muscular though nimble tenor sax playing to Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St., among other Stones LPs, is also here). For the most part, the album sounds like a show for the books, too. Especially compared to 2008’s Shine a Light, which featured deepish cuts like “Connection” as well as a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer”, the song selection here couldn’t be more boring. But fortunately, this is a band whose best cuts are also their best-known cuts, so while all of these songs but one (“Doom and Gloom”, the band’s 2012 single) are standards, this is one of the strongest sets they could have assembled.
Some of the most fulfilling moments here are the bloated passages, while many of the other successful changes are the very minor tweaks. The version of “Midnight Rambler” here is 12 minutes long including the brief break in the middle, and the extended length helps it take on extra weight in light of the recent developments in the case of Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who inspired the song. “Honky Tonk Women” also, including open-G guitar work. In terms of minutia that goes a long way, there’s the Bee Gees-conjuring falsetto Jagger tries on for “Emotional Rescue” and the loudness of the piano parts, which here sound like a few of the most essential in rock history. Except for, like whatever resulted in the off-time cowbell during the “Honky Tonk Women” intro, no dubious decisions were made in the process of recording this album.
As for Jagger and his run at gaining the title of England’s top frontman in the 70-or-older division? His voice has aged well, and his comedic banter is perfectly timed and clearly delivered. You can also hear plenty of joy in his voice during “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. It’s maybe the most-quoted Stones song ever, yet Jagger delivers every line with so much enthusiasm it’s like it’s 1969 and he still has to convince you of its power. Indeed, that’s another point made by the close of Hyde Park’s fast two hours: No matter how many times they’ve played these songs, sung these lines, picked these riffs, this is music that will resonate for decades still thanks in no small part to the verve with which they’re performed.
Essential Tracks: “Before They Make Me Run”, “Midnight Rambler”, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”