The Rolling Stones

In the Park [Bootleg CD]

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In the aftermath of Satanic Majesties and the attendant loss of producer Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones basically had two choices. They could continue down the cul-de-sac of oh-so-English psych and whimsy, knowing that Ray Davies was doing it an awful lot better, or they could reinvent themselves along the same brittle lines as the new year of 1968, all that student riots and war and invasion seemed to demand. Of course they chose the latter, as that year's Beggars Banquet proved. But live, they remained an untried proposition; NME poll-winners concert and Rock'n'Roll Circus aside, the Stones' only gigs between spring 1967 and mid-1969 were a couple of nights in Italy with an audience who still hadn't read the new script. The Hyde Park free concert, then, was a bigger deal than even seems possible, and of course it got even bigger after Brian Jones died just days before the show. The concert has been circulating on both audio and video almost since it happened. Filmed for British TV and regularly surfacing since then, it captures the Stones both shocked by death and shaken by change -- new guitarist Mick Taylor had been on board for one month and hadn't expected to make his live debut until close to the end of the year. Then Jagger saw Blind Faith headline Hyde Park on June 7 and within hours had committed his own band to play. Compared with what the Stones would soon be achieving on their next American tour that winter, it was not a great performance. "I'm Free" and "Stray Cat Blues" would sound sluggish whatever the sound quality, although the deeper into the show the more committed it sounds. Songs include a Mogadon-blues-paced "Honky Tonk Women"; a yearning, tasteful "Love in Vain"; and a loose "Loving Cup" (introduced as a song "from our new album, which will be released in about ten years time" -- in fact, the album arrived in six months, but the song took three years to materialize). That, however, was not the point of this particular release. An uncut transcription of the entire show has long been dreamed of, and sundry past discs have made a pretty good go of faking it by switching around the running order or spreading the performance over two discs. Advance word of this tape insisted that the Holy Grail was here at last. So why does it seem so disappointing? Partly because the major difference between this disc and past releases appears to be nothing more than a couple of minutes restored to "Midnight Rambler." It is cut, and clumsily audible as well, and in that respect it's irrelevant that the majority of the splices are relatively harmless -- the sound of a taper with an overactive pause button and a total lack of interest in Jagger's between-song introductions. But listeners also suffer the excision of much of the (admittedly elongated) introduction to the closing "Sympathy for the Devil," while the song's eventual collapse into a percussive free-for-all, impressive on the official video soundtrack, is practically unlistenable here -- a tinny buzz in the distance interrupted by the sounds of the taper packing up to leave. The Stones are still playing when the sound clicks off. Sonically, too, the tape compares badly with what is already out there, combining distortion and distance with level changes and hiss. The end result, then, is one of those frustratingly swings-and-roundaboutsy discs -- more music for one's money but more exertion for one's ears as well.

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