Last week, Google Music and the Stones began selling Brussels Affair (Live 1973), a recording from the Forest National in Belgium on October 17, 1973. The Stones' show that afternoon is one of the band's most famous bootlegs and has been described as one of the most incendiary performances of their half-century career. How can you go wrong? HOWEVER, this new album is NOT that bootleg. It's even better!
First, here's the pitch from Stones Archive:
The original bootlegs, sold under such titles as Europe 73, Bedspring Symphony and Brussels Affair, were cobbled together from assorted radio broadcasts, including the syndicated radio programme King Biscuit Flower Hour, and usually contained songs performed at other venues. The new edition, pulled exclusively from the two Brussels gigs, was taken from the original multi-track masters recorded by Andy Johns on the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Longtime Stones collaborator Bob Clearmountain applied the final mix.The Stones actually played two shows that day. The afternoon show is the one that has been widely booted via King Biscuit, etc. But 12 of the 15 songs on this new live album are from the evening show! Before this release dropped last week, collectors had only six songs from the evening show, in extremely poor quality. (And I didn't even know about those six; I thought nothing circulated.)
What we have is a brand new Stones soundboard from 1973* - straight from the band's own two-track master tapes! (I'm pretty sure I busted a button on my trousers.) And the price is right: $9 for flac files and $7 for 256mp3s. Snippets of the songs can be heard here. (Of course, with minimal rooting around online, you can find it for $0. I found it in less time than it took me to type this parenthetical aside. More on that later)
* - Brown Sugar, Midnight Rambler, Street Fighting Man, and Mick Taylor's first solo in All Down The Line are from the much-booted first show. (Not the entire band on ADTL, though, only Taylor's first solo. He broke a string right at the start and there was no solo!) Everything else on the CD is brand new!
There is a problem, though. People in the United States cannot buy the flac files via the Stones, and Google (wanting to compete with iTunes and others) is selling only the mp3s worldwide. Fans don't know why this is the case. Plus I read that the mp3 version has microgaps between each track. The Stones reportedly will release five more shows over the next year. (Since they have done 1973, a 1972 show may not be among them, so I will accept the two complete El Macombo shows from March 4 and 5, 1977, instead.) Maybe they will get enough flack about the formats and that arrangement will change for the upcoming releases.
Q: So, how does the show sound?
A. It's the Stones. From 1973.
A: 1973! The Fuckin Stones!
Longer A: This gig cooks like a motherfucker, but my initial impression is that it cannot touch the white-hot shows in Australia and New Zealand from February 1973, probably the best shows I have ever heard from the band. At that time, the set list was still the same as the infamous 1972 North American tour in support of Exile on Main Street and the band was a ferocious (yet exhilarating) machine. That this show does not match up to February 1973 is like saying $999 isn't quite the same as $1,000.
By late 1973, the band had recorded and released Goats Head Soup and there is a four-song block - Starfucker, Mr. D, Angie, Heartbreaker - from that album in this new show. For the most part, it doesn't matter one whit. The GHS songs are new and fresh, there is an immediacy to them, they have not yet disgenerated into camp. The fullness of the recording makes all of these songs tolerable to me (well, except for Angie). And the mix is stunningly clear, with plenty of separation. This show almost makes Ladies And Gentlemen sound like it was recorded with a hand-held cassette recorder.
Admission: I downloaded the Brussels show for nothing, but I am going to order the flac files as a show of support. For all the bitching I have done about how miserly the Stones have been when it comes to their musical history, paying $9 is just about the least I can do.
Pearl Jam and the Black Crowes are two bands that have allowed their fans to purchase copies of live shows, sometimes on the way out of the arena (!) or the next day. I have no idea if the Stones will offer more than these initial six shows, but I hope so. Putting old concerts online, with some no-frills artwork, cannot cost that much money. Files would be sold online only, no actual CDs. Yes, fans would share them or post them online, but fans have copied LPs, cassettes, and CDs for decades. It cannot be stopped. (However, in my downloading travels, I see next to no Crowes or Pearl Jams shows, so there may be some code of conduct at work here.)
Meanwhile, there are thousands of obsessed fans who cannot believe a show like this has been released. They would unconditionally support a project like this. Post a new show once a week, and sell flac shows for $10. It would be a license to print money.