Rock and Roll Circus
I’m not particularly a fan of the Rolling Stones, I have to say. I like a number of their songs, particularly from say pre-1974 or so. But I don’t own any of their albums or can say that I’ve listened to many of them all the way through. But “Gimme Shelter”? Genius. Same with “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. “Start Me Up”? Lameness personified.
But ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS just might convince me to become a fan. Originally envisioned as a television special in 1968, ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS is an amazing slice of the English rock pie of the time. Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithful and John Lennon (with Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell backing him up) perform, along with the Stones and Taj Majal (a well-regarded but mostly overlooked American bluesman of the time). But see, they’re not just performing, they’re all at the Rock and Roll Circus which is this sort of ramshackle Eastern Continental feeling kind of affair with performers who are a little too old and clothing that’s a little too gaudy. Those vignettes are few.
But what you get instead of an actual circus is some really great performances. You watch stuff like this and you really understand at a fundamental level what bult the audiences for these bands before they became big and bloated (or big and emaciated in the case of Mick Jagger) rock dinosaurs. Here’s bands arguably at the peak of their powers performing for tiny, miniscule audiences that wouldn’t fill up the stage of the coliseums that these bands would go on to fill. There’s a lot of power at play, and while Mick’s onstage antics might get laughed at by the jaded kids of today (once they’ve seen GG Allin, how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?), but I guarantee in 1968, there’d have been nationwide cases of the vapors had this actually been televised.
The really miraculous thing about ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS? It’s something that can’t be duplicated. Not just because Keith Moon and Brian Jones are dead, not just because the lightning has long escaped its various bottles, but because the lawyer and label-driven acts of today would never allow such a thing to happen. Not in a stripped-down and earnest manner as is the case here. Egos would never be put aside to combine into something a little more magical.
And really, the rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil” is worth the price of admission alone. Well that and Marianne Faithful’s radiant and too-brief presence.