critic’s pick 16

You get little insight as to why Martin Scorsese is co-billed with the still-mighty Stones when you listen to Shine a Light, a soundtrack album/live chronicle of the band’s Halloween 2006 engagement at New York’s Beacon Theatre, on its own.

But take the music in as part of Scorsese’s fascinating concert film of those shows, which opens with a 15 segment of unnerving preparation and ends with a breathtaking shot that stands as another of the director’s poetic salutes to New York City, and you have a far more complete idea of what an absorbing collaboration Shine a Light is.

For full effect, though, view the film in its intended IMAX setting, where Mick Jagger all but leaps off the screen as he tears down an onstage ramp and Keith Richards’ face approximates the Grand Canyon. The visual presence is, understandably, mammoth.

Scorsese has hit the rock ‘n’ roll boards before by directing The Band’s The Last Waltz.  But Shine a Light differs completely in intent. This is not a career summation or postscript. It is simply a living snapshot of a legendary band playing within the intimate confines of a theatre and reveling in, despite its long-in-the-tooth profile, a performance drive of remarkable vitality.

The set list features the usual bucketful of Stones staples, starting with an explosive Jumpin’ Jack Flash. But mixed in are such New York themed relics as She Was Hot (a sleeper tune from 1983), Just My Imagination (a Motown cover, yes, but one that shifts Richards from the rhythm role to the guitar solo spotlight) and the Stones’ greatest Big Apple kiss-off, Shattered.

There are a few guests on hand that pepper the party with varying results. Jack White comes off as a new generation rocker cut from the Stones’ rugged cloth on Loving Cup while Christina Aguilera reveals the vocal chops to spar with Jagger on Live With Me but shows little-to-none of her host’s intuitive cunning. The kicker, though, is watching Buddy Guy channel the mighty blues roar of Muddy Waters on Champagne and Reefer. Guy’s earthquake vocals and ripping guitar work make for some of the most playfully raw music the Stones have placed on an album in ages.

Jagger is as tireless as ever – a wind-up star that tears into the electric drive of All Down the Line, the pre-psychedelic pop of As Tears Go By and the comfortable menace of Sympathy for the Devil with equal confidence. The bonus on Shine a Light, though, is Far Away Eyes, a Stones novelty played as straightforward country by Ron Wood on pedal steel guitar but still delivered by Jagger as a wicked rural gospel send-up.

Far Away Eyes is also one of the few instances on Shine a Light where Richards attempts harmony vocals. While the results make for a merry train wreck, the guitarist is in remarkably strong voice when he takes the lead on the ultra bluesy and boozy You Got the Silver and his Between the Buttons relic Connection.

While the film essentially wraps up after (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and the prized camera shot that Shine a Light summons after Scorsese barks one simple but urgent direction to the camera (“Up!”), the album tacks on a few bonus tracks that include vigorous readings of Paint It Black and I’m Free. The finale is the title tune, which plays under the film’s closing credits. Initially a spiritual fashioned for the Stones’ classic Exile on Main Street in 1972, Shine a Light is here offered with a simpler, less demonstrative glow. Like the entire album, it boasts a vitality that is worldly, forthright and great fun.

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