As bootlegs go, this is an admirably ambitious production: two 75-minute CDs almost wholly devoted to early live Rolling Stones, from 1961 to 1967. And we do mean live here: there are no BBC or TV performances, just live, unmimed shows before real screaming audiences, with a couple of exceptions. So you get their brief but lively 1964-1965 NME Pollwinners Concerts; their show at the Paris Olympia in April 1965; nine songs from a show in Melbourne, Australia, in February 1966; eight from another Paris Olympia gig, in March 1966; a solitary song from their July 1966 concert in Honolulu; and, most interesting of all, a good chunk of yet another Paris Olympia gig in April 1967. As for the tracks from March 1965, at a glance you might dismiss these as the long officially available material from their U.K. Got Live if You Want It! EP, but no: although all the songs from that EP are indeed here, they're joined by unreleased live versions of "Down the Road Apiece," "Time Is on My Side," and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," evidently recorded at the same time. Topping off the set are two lo-fi songs from 1961 rehearsals (parts of which have appeared on various boots) by an embryonic lineup of the group -- though the 1961 version of "Around and Around" is just a fragment -- and a 1964 studio recording of "Susie Q" that seems identical to the one they released officially that year, though in far worse quality. True, the sound on most of this isn't great: the sound balance is nearly always below usual release-quality standard, the performances are unrelentingly energetic, but sometimes out of time and out of tune, and the teen screams often threaten to overwhelm the band. Even with all that taken into account, though, the fidelity is actually pretty good for unreleased mid-'60s big-star rock & roll; sometimes rough, but sometimes downright good, and rarely difficult to listen to.
More importantly, this is a valuable aural snapshot of the early Rolling Stones as they sounded live, playing both R&B covers, and early Jagger-Richards hits like "The Last Time," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Get Off of My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Paint It, Black," "Mother's Little Helper," "Play With Fire," and "Lady Jane." There are some surprises along the way, too: a cover of Bo Diddley's "Hey! Crawdaddy" (originally titled "Craw-Dad" when Diddley did it, and which the Stones never recorded for official release) from their Paris 1965 show, "That's How Strong My Love Is" from Australia 1966, medleys of "Get Off of My Cloud"/"Yesterday's Papers," and "Goin' Home"/"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from Paris 1967, and the then-new hits "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend the Night Together," also from Paris 1967. Yes, at times there are embarrassing slip-ups. In an almost too-perfect moment worthy of Spinal Tap, an aggressive Australian announcer touting shirts from a program sponsor blathers over the last part of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" -- a song that, of course, had Mick Jagger complaining in no uncertain terms about advertising men telling him how white his shirts can be. The band and Jagger slip badly out of time with each other (no doubt due to struggling to hear themselves over the crowd) during the Paris 1967 "19th Nervous Breakdown," and while it's admirable that "Ruby Tuesday" was replicated on-stage with the recorder part used in the studio version (presumably also played here by Brian Jones), it also has trouble getting things right. The fidelity at times varies widely, sometimes within the same show, so much so that at times one wonders whether all of the material listed for certain concerts really came from the same specified gigs. And fragments of some songs are cut off, particularly and frustratingly from the 1967 Paris show, making one wonder if these were copied off a radio or TV broadcast that itself never taped the entire performance. Still -- this is the Stones, and they do play raucously and enjoyably, sometimes hitting truly excellent peaks, as on the 1967 "Paint It, Black," and the 1965 NME Pollwinners Concert "Around and Around." If only this had their 1966 Honolulu show (the entirety of which has circulated elsewhere), it would be a pretty comprehensive document of the Brian Jones-era unreleased Rolling Stones in concert.