Friday, March 1, 2024

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Live at the Wiltern'

2003 was a big year for The Rolling Stones. That was when the group turned forty, released their very first career-spanning greatest hits album, and went on an international tour that became the second most profitable one in history at the time (The most profitable? Their own Voodoo Lounge tour of eight years earlier). 

Although the Forty Licks comp stuck strictly to the most obvious hits, the Licks tour was defined by the eclectic nature of its deep-cut diving set lists. For the Stones' November 4, 2002, visit to the Wiltern Theatre in LA, they dusted off such chestnuts as "Hand of Fate", the best rocker from the mediocre Black and Blue; "Thru and Thru", the best track from the uneven Voodoo Lounge and one of my personal faves of the nineties; and "You Don't Have to Mean It", one of the few great tracks from the mostly-awful Bridges to Babylon. They reached further back for the Beggars Banquet classics "Stray Cat Blues" and "No Expectations" and further still for the early R&B covers "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love", the latter featuring a guest appearance by the man who originated the song and opened for the Stones on this particular date, Solomon Burke. They also played "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Honky Tonk Women", "Start Me Up", "Brown Sugar", and "Tumbling Dice" for the billionth time so that less dedicated fans wouldn't feel too confused or disappointed.

Twenty years later, the entire Wiltern show is making its way to triple-vinyl. It may be twenty years old, but Live at the Wiltern still documents the Stones when they were pretty long in the tooth, so no one is going to argue that this is as vital a live album as Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, but the "tunes that they seldom do," as Mick describes them, make this a valuable album, especially for anyone who just wants versions of the best songs from some of the Stones' least essential albums. The band sounds very strong and engaged throughout, especially when jamming, and you would have to be a bit of a curmudgeon to not give yourself over to the grooves of "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Dance, Pt. 1". I'm a lot of a curmudgeon, and they got to me. 

The sound is a bit thin and slightly distorted in the high end, but the bass is sufficiently full, though not exceptionally punchy. All three pieces of vinyl are perfectly quiet and flat.

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