Friday, April 2, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

The Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King (recent reissue)
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert 40th Anniversary Box Set

ABKCO 02412 3 180g LPs, 3 CDs, 1 DVD

Produced by: The Rolling Stones and Glyn Johns
Engineered by: Glyn Johns
Mixed by: Glyn Johns
Mastered by: Bob Ludwig , Gateway Mastering (LPs cut by Carl Rowatti at TruTone)
Reissue Produced by: Jodi H. Klein and Teri Landi

Review by: Michael Fremer

Was this the greatest rock and roll concert recording ever as some suggest? Is it deserving of deluxe box set status? The producers of this ultra-sumptuous box obviously thought so!

It includes a full-sized, perfect bound full color book with large typeface appropriate for aging baby boomer consumption (and well worth the read!), two and a half 180g LPs containing the original album, opening sets by Ike and Tina Turner and B.B. King and four unreleased tracks from the concert on a one sided LP, the second side of which includes band member autograph etchings and a silhouette of Charlie Watts’ uncharacteristically exuberant cover pose. You even get a red guitar pick.

But wait! There’s more! You get three CDs containing the same material minus the four bonus tracks. Those are on a DVD with video. It’s all housed in a quadruple gatefold package encased in a box. Open the double-gatefold and you’re looking down on a panoramic black and white shot of Madison Square Garden.

Look, the bonus stuff is great fun, especially hearing a younger B.B. King who was then mostly unknown to the almost exclusively white, middle class, suburban audience. Credit the Stones for their pioneering work. Ditto Ike and Tina, who were then probably better known than B.B. King. Ike and Tina may have been fighting off stage but on they were still on fire.

So the extras are the spices but what about the main course? Just three years earlier the Stones couldn’t hear themselves play on stage because of the teenybopper screaming. Listen to Got Live if You Want It! most of which was recorded just three years earlier for an ear-opening comparison.

That compilation presents a very different band and a very different audience. Both were operating at far higher energy than here but while that one gets by on youthful energy, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out simmers, burns and cuts deeply.

With Brian Jones gone, replaced by the bluesy Mick Taylor, who never really fit in but did manage to tug the band into jam-band territory, the Rolling Stones in 1969 were a more introspective, less pop oriented assemblage, though it could be argued that age would have led them in that direction without Taylor.

With weed having replaced adrenaline, the more mature, inward looking audience replaced screaming with concentrated listening, holding their applause and screaming to the end of the song. The seismic shift in both band and audience was enormous given that only three years had passed.

With the adrenaline and speed gone, this concert sounded to some more like a Grateful Dead show than one by The Rolling Stones. The pacing was slower, the grooves more deliberate. While it opens slowly with a somewhat stodgy “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” followed by a tepid “Carol,” this “Stray Cat Blues” is even meaner and more nasty than the original. “Love in Vain” fills the space and gives relief to the bloody “Midnight Rambler.”

There’s no stopping side two, with special mention going to Bill Wyman’s bass playing throughout this set. He just anchors the band, laying down thick, deep grooves that give Keith and Mick Taylor space to eviscerate the air with edgy.bluesy, soulful riffs. “Little Queenie, another Chuck Berry classic, taken at a really languid pace, nicely breaks up the space between “Live With Me” and a torrid “Honky Tonk Women,” and the final scorcher, “Street Fighting Man.”

By the time the tour hit Madison Square Garden, the band was locked into a tight, precise groove. There was nothing sloppy, drugged-out or drunken about this Rolling Stones. That would come later on Exile on Main Street!.

While most “bonus tracks” make obvious why they didn’t make the original cut, these are good enough to have made the original release had there been room on a forty minute or so album without seriously degrading the sound.

That said, the Keith and Mick Show portion of the show containing “Prodigal Son” would have been one too many slow movers for the final album, as would have “You Gotta Move,” as well as the enjoyably misogynistic “Under My Thumb” and “I’m Free,” which has since gone on to become the soundtrack to some television commercial or other.

When I was on the air at WBCN-FM, playing "Under My Thumb" was controversial. It may even have been unofficially banned by the feminist/lesbian contingent at the station.

I wonder what B.B. King was thinking while Mick and Keith performed the blues classics “Prodigal Son” and “You Gotta Move”—assuming he stayed backstage for the show. Keith’s acoustic guitar playing was magnificent even back then.

Rock’n’Roll recorded sound in 1969, even with Glyn Johns at the helm of the Wally Heider Mobile truck, was a crap shoot and the original sounded somewhat muffled and recessed, overloaded with stage monitor feedback. Still, if you listened in, the guitars were cleanly rendered and the overall effect was pretty powerful, though you needed an original UK Decca pressing to really hear it correctly.

This reissue, produced from the original analog tapes, transferred by Teri Landi who did likewise on the excellent Decca Stones catalog for ABKCO, originally on hybrid SACD but not anymore (and not because Jodi Klein wanted to stop churning it out on SACD) outperforms the original in many ways.

Bob Ludwig mastered the transfer, sending 96k/24 bit files to TruTone Mastering Labs’ Carl Rowatti, who cut the lacquers for the 180g LPs.

The remastered version, while sounding somewhat less “organic” and airy than the original, offers far better low end response, cleaner overall transients, far greater dynamic range and an especially better overall tonal balance that rids the picture of its stage monitor induced midrange haze. It’s much clearer and cleaner in the best sense of the word “clean” compared to the original, though the original UK Decca has it’s own sonic charms not found here. Still, if given the choice, I'd choose this reissue.

Like Eddie Kramer’s superb Woodstock restoration, this one produces an overall improvement to the original sonic product without making fundamental shifts that would ruin the original intent.

The end of that tumultuous decade was a pivot point in cultural history and when you combine the original concert with the opening acts, and the unreleased material on both audio and video, plus the wealth of great background information contained in the book along with great photos, you end up with a superbly produced package—the kind that’s needed to make a compelling case for owning “physical product.”

This 40th anniversary box may be pricey, but I think anyone plunking down the dollars will come away from a first thorough listen and read feeling that it was money well spent!

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by permission

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