DVD Reviews: The Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople

93 Billboard Rating

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live in Texas 1978
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Release Date: Nov. 21, 2011

The Ballad of Mott the Hoople
Start Productions
Release Date: Nov. 8, 2011

As years go by there are fewer and fewer stones unturned from the archives of rock history, but these two engrossing specimens of 1970s rock are stellar exceptions: DVDs of the Rolling Stones' 1978 tour and a definitive retrospective of the under-sung but enormously influential British rock band Mott the Hoople.

The Stones DVD captures a full set from a surprisingly under-documented tour by one of the most exhaustively documented rock bands in history. Unlike most of the Stones' other major tours, this one had no live album or (until now) film; indeed, the only officially released video document was a famously hoarse performance on "Saturday Night Live." Thus, it's an enormously pleasant surprise to see and hear the Stones in their full glory on this DVD, playing before a bell-bottomed, tube-topped Texas audience that looks straight out of "Dazed and Confused." Heavily influenced by punk at the time, the Stones on this tour played on a comparatively spare stage and a comparatively short set - 17 songs (nearly half of them from the then-new "Some Girls" LP), 90 or so minutes. Things get off to an unsteady start when the band opens not with "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or "Brown Sugar" or "Honky Tonk Woman" (as they did, respectively, on their three preceding tours) but "Let It Rock," a Chuck Berry deep cut that was only available as an import B-side at the time of this tour. Yet by the second song the band is rocking at full tilt and, apart from a clumsy take on the country lilt "Far Away Eyes," they don't let up for the entire set.

There are a few blown notes and dropped beats - which the group has refreshingly opted not to tidy up - but you're getting the Stones at their absolute best here: Keith Richards and Ron Wood's almost psychically connected twin-guitar attack; Bill Wyman's melodic, eternally underrated bass playing (doubly impressive here because his left hand was injured in a fall days earlier); Charlie Watts' preternatural swing, and Jagger at the peak of his powers. He's absolutely hilarious throughout the show, sexy but comical, playing to the audience rather than the cameras, mugging, doing a silly rag-doll dance, and tormenting Ron Wood as he tries to solo: slapping him, pretending to kiss him, swatting him with his shirt -- although Wood had been with the band for three years at that point, clearly he was still the new guy.

As for Mott, they've got a backstory that'd be a great rock novel if it weren't already true. In 1969 London, a veteran Dylanesque rocker (Ian Hunter) unites with four guys from the country. The band is svengali'ed by legendary rock nutcase (Guy Stevens); their raucous live shows make them one of the most popular live acts in England but the band fails to capture that magic on wax and, demoralized, decide to split up in 1972. But wait! Enter rapidly rising star David Bowie, on a svengali kick himself, who offers the band "Suffragette City" (thanks but no thanks) and then "All the Young Dudes," an undeniable classic that Mott promptly make their own, and makes their dreams come true. It's a worldwide smash and the band rides the glam-rock wave to the top, clad in lots of silver, leather and comically high heels. More hits ("All the Way From Memphis," "Roll Away the Stone," "Honaloochie Boogie") and triumphant tours (support act: a rapidly rising little group called Queen) ensue of the next two years before the band runs out of steam, gets tired of each other and splits, but not before recording their own eulogy: their final single "Saturday Gigs."

This lovingly curated documentary collects archival footage and recent interviews with nearly all band members (Hunter, incredibly, is now 75) along with Queen's Roger Taylor, Clash guitarist Mick Jones (a hard-core Mott follower) and even the president of the band's fan club. It's a standard VH1 style rock doc but an exceptional one that will rope in the curious as well as longtime fans who've waited decades for this definitive doc.

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