The Rolling Stones - Ladies & Gentlemen the Rolling StonesConsidering that the Rolling Stones aren’t touring, and that there has been no new music from them recently, 2010 has turned out to be a pretty big year for Stones fans. Earlier this year, we got a splendid reissue of what is arguably the band’s best album, Exile On Main Street, complete with 10 previously unreleased tracks. Then in June we got Stones In Exile, a terrific documentary about the making of Exile. Now Eagle Rock Entertainment has released the final piece of the puzzle, the thoroughly captivating Ladies & Gentlemen the Rolling Stones.

The film was shot over the course of four Texas performances during the Stones promotional tour for Exile in 1972. It had a theatrical release in 1974, and since then has been more or less lost until this new DVD and Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray transfer I saw looks and sounds great, and features songs from peak-era Stones albums including Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971), and of course Exile itself. In fact the only real look back to the band’s origins comes via a torrid version of Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny,” a song the band used as a set closer way back when they were playing at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond.

The last time that America had seen the Stones prior to the 1972 tour depicted here, Meredith Hunter had been stabbed to death, and scores of people were beaten at the Altamont Speedway as a result of one of the most tragic misjudgments in the annals of rock and roll. So when the Stones came back to these shores they had a lot to prove. In a contemporary interview that is one of the disc’s bonus features, Mick Jagger himself notes that the band’s live performances could be quite sloppy and lackadaisical in those days, but then says of these shows, “it’s a full-on performance and energy levels are really high.” It’s great to see a fully engaged Keith Richards going about his business as only he can, but the real star of the show is guitarist Mick Taylor, who rips one brilliant solo after another. As usual, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman provide the solid foundation of the Stones music. The stalwart horn section of sax player Bobby Keyes and trumpeter Jim Price is a key part of the action, and Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins guest on piano, though they are barely seen. All together this adds up to what is without a doubt the best live footage of the Stones that I’ve ever seen in terms of the band’s performance.

Other bonus features include three songs from the tour rehearsal. These obviously lack the intensity of the actual live performances, but they are certainly of historical interest. There’s also an Old Grey Whistle Test interview with a sly and coquettish Jagger from 1972, which contrasts nicely with the jovial, thoughtful elder statesman that we see in the new interview.

Ladies & Gentlemen the Rolling Stones is a no-brainer for Stones fans, but more than that, it presents one of rock’s most storied bands at their absolute peak, and that is something that everyone should witness.