Review: The Rolling Stones’ “Live at the El Mocambo”

For 45 years, the Rolling Stones i love you live was one of rock’s biggest teases. About 75% of the double LP was recorded in arenas and stadiums during the band’s 1976 tour, and featured competent but rarely exhilarating or necessary renditions of concert warhorses and deep cuts. But hidden away (on side three) were four songs recorded at Toronto’s tiny El Mocambo club in March 1977, when the Stones played a surprise set called “The Cockroaches.”

Playing in front of a few hundred people and unable to hide behind props like the giant inflatable penis of the 1975 shows, the Stones had to focus on the music, not the show. And judging by the small part of the two El Mocambo broadcasts heard on i love you live, they got to work. With Mick Jagger unleashing a new style of growl, their crackling covers of songs by Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon paid homage to their heroes, and the recordings were so visceral you’ll feel like you’re in the early days. rows of the 300-seat club. The roar of the distant crowd heard for most of i love you live was a metaphor for how alienated the Stones had become from the average rock fan, let alone most mundane household chores. El Mocambo’s tracks, driven by a clearly audible and captivated small audience, presented them as a band that wanted to reconnect with those fans and stay relevant, just as punk rock reared its bristling head.

It only took 45 years, but Living at El Mocambo marks the official, uninfringed release of the rest of these recordings (most of the second night, which would have been better than the first). And, overall, it lives up to the legend, or at least what everyone would have wanted it to be. The you’re there vibe of what we’ve heard before runs throughout the album, as does the same bravado and ferocity whether the band release “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the hundredth time or a cover. of bluesman Big “Worried Life Blues” by Maceo. The relatively intimate sound quality (for the Stones) allows you to revel in the drums of Charlie Watts, the guitar playing between Keith Richards and Ron Wood (like the alternating solos on “Worried Life Blues”), and sometimes the sparkling piano of the sideman Billy Preston, all of whom stand out much more here than on a typical Stones live record of that era.

The four songs of El Mocambo inserted in i love you live were not pure; the band layered new parts over some of them. Living at El Mocambo restores them to their pristine state, while also erasing some dodgy history. On i love you liveJagger was heard introducing the group through jokes about their sexual inclinations: “Billy is open to offers”, “Charlie Watts is kind of a maybe”, “Bill Wyman just wants to take pictures of the legs of the girls” and “Ronnie Wood is gay. Those remarks are completely MIA on Live in El Mocambo. Maybe, like the way the band dropped “Brown Sugar” from their recent set list, someone thought those jokes were a little… insensitive in 2022?

That telling omission aside, what’s most fascinating about Living at El Mocambo is how it presents the Stones not as a fledgling group of oldies, but as an active, actively creative band. A few hits from the 60s are here, but the focus is on their latest albums up to this point. Say what you will about their proto-gangsta saga, runaway killer “Hand of Fate” or the uncomfortably hostile “Crazy Mama.” But the band plays them with delightfully desperate energy, and they revise It’s just rock’n’rollersatz-reggae “Luxury” into a more typical swaggering stomp. (Wryly, Jagger bills it as “a little-known number we’re hoping to make popular,” which was wishful thinking.) Most of these songs, especially the black and blue these, would not be played on stage for over 20 years, which adds another level of historical interest to these tapes.

With Preston in the lead, they even presented a rare performance of “Melody”, the ballad of the lizard-salon of black and blue, and make their first stage crack at “Worried About You,” the seemingly Motown-influenced soul shuffle that sounds fully formed years before it made it onto a record. Despite all the turmoil of the time, especially Richards’ heroin addiction at the time, Living at El Mocambo unfolds a band that lived in the moment, trying hard not to suck the 70s.

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