The Rolling Stones

Live Licks

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Since 1977, when the double-live Love You Live offered a live souvenir of the 1976 Black and Blue tour, the Rolling Stones made a habit of documenting their recent tour with a live album released a year later. It's as reliable as clockwork, but in the early days of the 2000s there was a spanner in the works -- the Stones hadn't released an album of new material since 1997. Undaunted, the group launched a full-scale international tour in 2002. At its core, it was a greatest-hits tour, but it was a greatest-hits tour with a difference -- the group switched up venues, playing clubs, arenas, and stadiums, and they played with their set lists too, throwing in never-performed album tracks, cult favorites, and covers into the mix with the old warhorses. This tour was lavishly chronicled in the excellent 2003 four-DVD set Four Flicks, but there still wasn't an audio document of this blockbuster tour until the double-CD Live Licks appeared in late 2004. This doesn't mix things up as much as either the tour or the DVD, where the forgotten gems sat alongside the familiar. Instead, the first disc is devoted to the songs you know by heart, the second to fan favorites, covers, and tunes never before on another Stones live album ("Beast of Burden," believe it or not, is among those songs). While the song selection on the latter initially seems haphazard -- why two album tracks from Tattoo You ("Neighbours," "Worried About You")? why is Keith singing Hoagy Carmichael? why isn't the version of "Rock Me Baby" the storied version with Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC jamming with the Stones? -- it actually holds together very well as it spins, demonstrating the depth of the band's catalog and their musicality. Most surprisingly, this album is convincing proof that the Rolling Stones sounded better on this tour than they had in years. They still boast an enormous number of auxiliary musicians, but these are players that have been with the Stones for years, if not decades, so all 13 musicians sound comfortable with each other as a band, which makes the music supple and strong. While the Stones haven't abandoned their arena-ready, cinematic shtick, it no longer sounds cartoonish, it sounds natural; the band has the ability to make this large-scale arena rock sound as if it were being played in a packed bar. In other words, this is how a veteran band sounds when it's not coasting. Not that this makes for an essential Stones album -- these are the kind of differences that matter only to longtime fans -- but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one, and one that nearly justifies yet another version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." [There are two versions of Live Licks -- an American and British version. There is one difference between the two releases: on the U.S. version, the computer-animated Japanese woman is wearing a bikini top, on the U.K. version she is not.]

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