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Some bands have a serious shortage of concert footage in their catalog while others have a multitude available for their fans. Take the Rolling Stones... they've been performing now for 40+ years, which has resulted in a lot of concert footage, and recently they have made a point to release entire concerts from their recent world tours. Just the other day I got the chance to check out the latest DVD set, The Biggest Bang, from the band of "no farewell tours" and I thought I'd write a review.
This release is pretty expansive with 4 DVDs worth of material include 2 entire shows and plenty of bonus tracks and documentary features to chronicle this latest world tour... And all for a pretty low price through Best Buy, which is nice.
The first disk is dedicated to the concert from Austin Texas and took place in a massive park. I actually thought the band sounded a little stiff opening this set, with only Mick Jagger really looking into it, but Jagger is always a complete bundle of energy on stage so that part was expected. Still, the performances are pretty good and as the set progressed, it seemed like the band loosened up a bit more. I liked the rough edged tribute to Buddy Holly "Learning the Game" from Mr. Rock and Roll himself: Keith Richards, and towards the end of the show the band seems to really find the groove. "Sympathy for the Devil", "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" are all fiery the rock and roll parties that you'd expect from the Stones, as is the closer, "Brown Sugar", which sums everything up really well. There's also a little mini documentary about the show that includes some rough rehearsals, which is interesting, and a rough take of "I Can't Be Satisfied" that I think is great to have included because of how completely spontaneous it feels.
The second disk is focused on the show in Rio de Joneiro, a show that was on the beach, free and attended by well over a million people. It starts with the documentary about putting everything together, which is interesting as one can often overlook the immense amount of work that goes into a show this massive. Once it starts, the band seems far more locked in and enjoying themselves than the opening of the Texas show, with a bit of a looser feel and the necessary rock and roll energy and fun. This show features a great version of "Midnight Rambler" where the band channels their inner tight little blues band, and a amazing duet version of "Night Time is the Right Time" with tons of soul. They also do a great version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" before closing with "Satisfaction". Definitely a rockin' show worth seeing.
The third disk features snippets from some of the other places they went on this world tour. I didn't think that the Japan segment was really all that necessary as all three songs were in one of the set lists from the complete shows. The China and Argentina shows however, are far cooler with the China material including a killer duet version of "Gimme Shelter". The Argentina material has good versions of "Happy" and "Paint it Black" but what really makes it great is the crowd, and the band certainly noticed. I want to go to a concert in Buenos Aires, those people know how to have a good time... I don't think I've ever seen so many people moving and singing together like that all at once; just a huge raunchy party with the Stones in the middle of it all. I wish they would have included the entire show, but the songs that are included are pretty great and watching them close with "Satisfaction", with the crown virtually moving as one , is really enough to give the impression that those were quite a rockin' shows. Also included on the third disk are a set duets with some other big names in rock and roll, all of which I thought were great, especially watching some of these big names share a little about what they think about the Rolling Stones.
The fourth disk is primarily a documentary about the tour and includes some great looks backstage and gives a little peak "at the man behind the curtain" I guess you can say, which I really like to have as part of any of these type of DVD sets. I think its well done and gives some insight into the process as well as why this band not only can, but wants to keep going, now 40+ years after they began. This documentary also expands upon some of the more memorable moments fro the tour including the Superbowl, Rio, China and Buenos Aires. There is also some great, but short, footage of a little club gig the band did that I really liked as a counterpoint to the massive stadium gigs, plus a few extras from the documentary that give a little more insight into each band member, and a couple of extra covers from the club gig.
Now, I like this DVD set, but I can't say that I was completely floored by it. Not every performance is ultra sharp and there are a few times the band falls a little short, but I can get over that and I kind of like the rough edges so neither of those things really bothered me. What did bother me though, is something that plagues a lot of modern concert footage: bad editing and camera work.
There are moments in both full concerts and some of the other clips where the editing and camera work are just far too "MTV" and/or frantic for me. I'm not a filmmaker at all, but here's a recommendation to all you wannabe concert film editors from someone who loves music, concerts and concert footage: I understand you want to be all artsy and use your massive editing capabilities to add excitement to the show, BUT... if your artistic exploration is distracting me from the music or has progressed to the point that I can't actually see what a shot is before you move on to the next... then you've failed miserably at your job as editor. The same is true for camera work... rapid paced exciting camera work = good, BUT only in small, tasteful doses.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a huge problem with this footage, as I've seen far worse, but there are moments throughout all the material where I felt that it was a little too much in terms of camera movement and editing, especially with the Rio show unfortunately... I mean, yes, the crowd was huge, but don't cut to the aerial view every third shot.
Also, some people may not like that there is a fair amount of repeat material. Of course there will be overlap in set lists one night to the next, so it's kind of expected and I actually like to have the concerts in their entirety. Still there are multiple versions of many songs that are pretty close, just from different places. It's not excessive, but can be a little repetitive. For example, there are three unique versions of "Wild Horses"; each one is there for a reason, but there still are three takes.
Neither of these things are bothersome enough to make me really irked, especially because both are pretty common of concert DVDs like this, but they might bother some people.
This isn't really a negative, but I noticed something else as well. I guess part of seeing the Stones is the spectacle; fireworks, massive light shows, stage setups etc. This set is a great example of all that spectacle, but it also reminds me why I always thought the best place to see a Rolling Stones concert would be in a dingy bar or club, that holds under 5000 people or maybe even under 1000 people. It's not that I don't enjoy and like the arena shows, they're great, but it seems like when the band is really amazing are the songs that they can open up on, like "Midnight Rambler", "Gimme Shelter" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and that sometimes all the production can bog them down a little at times causing exciting songs to sound a little too produced and not spontaneous enough. I'd love to see what the band would do in a small club where they could take a more intimate approach and a little more artistic freedom. The footage of the club gig in the bonus material and the documentary are a good glimpse, but I wish I could see a whole concert.
Overall, I think it's a pretty great DVD set, a great indication of the band in their element and a great chronicle of the tour that also has some nice looks at the band beyond their arena rock exterior. I can't really compare this to say... the Four Flicks set... as I haven't seen that one in it's entirety yet. If this was the only modern concert DVD set available from the Rolling Stones, I don't think I'd be overly disappointed, but in fact, one of the great thing about it is that it's NOT the only concert DVD from the Stones. All encompassing DVD sets can often miss out on a lot when they try and go for broke. This is more focused purely on the band at this time, which works well and doesn't try to be too vast. That might not be the case had they tried to release a single definitive DVD set to encompass their entire career. Plus everything on this set is really good and there are some absolute standout moments.
For the price, all the content and the onetime extras, I'd say that it's definitely worthwhile for Stones fans to pick up. Is it a must have? Maybe not if you already own Four Flicks or some of the other DVDs out there, but personally I don't think you can ever have too much concert footage of great rock and roll and The Biggest Bang is a pretty solid release.