“The Brussels Affair”

17Apr12

I saw this. . . album?. . . advertised on the Stones’ Facebook page, so I checked it out on their newly-formed archive site. Supposedly the site will house a number of “newly available” vault tracks, such as this failed concert album from a 1973 European tour performance.

The obvious reason for the band to release this now is money. Even if it sells 5 copies, that’s 5 more than it was selling previously locked away. But I’m not sure why they didn’t just release it back then anyway. The interest in such a document has a different weight now that those Rolling Stones no longer exist exactly, and it’s a nostalgia piece, but I can’t figure out what was so disappointing about these recordings that they didn’t release them before. It’s generally better/greater than anything on the legitimate release “Love You Live.”

Perhaps the reason to hold back comes from what is, in my mind, the greatest track on “The Brussels Affair,” the 10+ minute long “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” This is the slower-but-not-too-slow version that I’ve previously obsessed over and written about. I used to have a bootleg concert from this approximate era, and it sold me on this version being the definitive one for my heart. There’s no change in speed, just intensity. The entire song — not just the title — becomes a mantra by the end, building and building until it can’t hold it any more. . . which may explain why they wanted to can it.

I read a review of “Brussels Affair” which mentioned how this captured the Stones “just before the collapse,” and that feeling of exhausted energy (if such a thing can exist) oozes through “You Can’t.” It shouldn’t be that long, it shouldn’t be that loud, it shouldn’t be this raucous, nothing should be this simultaneously happy and bitter, and yet this song is. The performance is beautifully imperfect, typified by sax-player Trevor Lawrence (replacing the then-fired Bobby Keys) playing so high that he can’t hit the notes.

I’ve never been a big solos guy, especially on albums where I can’t see the soloist playing. Without a visual, my attention wanders. I’m a TV-generation kid. But somehow the build of these solos — from Mick Taylor’s guitar into Lawrence’s saxophone — grabs me. Maybe it’s because I love this version of the song so much that any attempt to lengthen that experience becomes welcomed, but I think there’s more to it, and it’s in that can’t-hit-the-high-note moment. I’ve thought about it a long while now, and I actually believe that if Lawrence had hit the mark and nailed that highest-of-high note, I wouldn’t love the song as much. That may sound like an apologist fan (which I certainly am), but I think I so appreciate the attempted reach for greatness, that I find it endearing. Besides, if he’d hit the note, I don’t think I’d find it memorable. “Great, a professional nailed a solo. Big deal.” Limitations define greatness. But here’s a professional kicking ass for 99.9% of the time and then botching it because — in my romantic notion of this performance’s power — everyone’s reaching for something they can’t actually grab. It’s like the musical version of “Apocalypse Now.” Sure, “The Godfather” is a better complete film, but “Apocalypse Now” is much more interesting.

“Brussels” contains many such moments which typify an exciting — if not great — live album. What I want in a live version of a song is: A.) a version of the song similar enough to the previously-known best version of the song, yet B.) contains some extra bit that makes this live version interesting if not better than the previously-known best version. Of the 15 tracks on “Brussels,” I can think of eight different tracks containing said moments. Compare that with “Ya-Ya’s,” whose only stand out in this regard is “Midnight Rambler.” Those eight are:

1.) “Happy,” containing a lot more Jagger singing

2.) “Dancing With Mr. D.,” which feels out a weird shuffle by the end.

3.) “Heartbreaker,” which is really weird, because it starts out way below the studio track’s level, but then it’s pre-finale whack-out portion comes out of nowhere to open your ears. This will happen in a few other tracks, and I believe Billy Preston is to thank.

4.) “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Besides the failed high note, there’s the sax solo itself, which goes on for what feels like 4 minutes. Preceding that is Mick Taylor’s solo, which is gorgeous, and the song actually opens with a French horn. On top of all that, you have Billy Preston’s keys adding some strange vibe and then the way Jagger sings the final verse “I could tell by her blood-stained hand.” Emphasis on “sings.” It’s fittingly climactic.

5.) Midnight Rambler.” Another case of “Oh, this isn’t as great. . . say. . .” The “say. . .” moment comes after that first-half speed-up, with Jagger getting the crowd to scream “OW!” on the guitar punches. From there you add more Preston keys and you’re hooked. It may never contend for the “Ya-Ya’s” version’s title, but it’s a fighter.

6.) “Honky Tonk Women.” One of the best live versions of this song I’ve heard, and it’s mostly the rhythm guitar “chunk-a-chunk-a.”

7.) “All Down The Line.” It’s just a tight, rocking version.

8.) “Street Fighting Man,” the last song and the last time it starts out so-so then hits some weird point for a “say. . .” moment. Keys and freak-out is to blame/thank.

One final weird note: I did buy this album, but not through the Stones’ archive site. Apparently this concert is not available in the States, so I was directed to buy it (for cheaper) from the Google Music site. Now, that’s great, except with Google Music you can only stream the songs you buy. Unless you get fancy. THE POINT is that it’s weird how this is still kind of “unavailable” in the United States. I still picked up a bootleg, even though it was advertised on a very popular social media site and it wasn’t supposed to be a bootleg at all.

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One Response to ““The Brussels Affair””

  1. It’s a really good live album this one – shame it was only available on bootlegs for so long….


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