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ROCK 'N ROLL CIRCUS
TV Special recorded on December 10 & 11, 1968. Directed By Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Produced by the Rolling Stones.The special never aired. CD & VHS Video Released - October 15, 1996, DVD released October 12, 2004. Produced by Jimmy Miller, Jody Klien, Lenne Allik
THE ROCK N ROLL CIRCUS
This was one of the first grand Rock 'n Roll events of the 1960s, and for years it was the one that got away! The Circus was put together by the Rolling Stones after Mick Jagger came up with the main idea. It was suppose to be a TV special, filmed in December, 1968, but was never shown and finally released years later as a VHS Video and CD, in 1996. Released as a DVD in 2004.
There were so many firsts and lasts involved with the The Rock 'n Roll Circus, it was not only one of the first major Rock n Roll get-to-gethers, but also the first major gig for Jethro Tull, which for Tull would also include the first and last gig with guitarist Tony Iommi, who would leave to form Black Sabbath just weeks later. It was one of the first times The Who would perform a rock opera live. It featured one of the first rock super groups, The Dirty Mac (the name through up by John Lennon, as he was poking fun at Fleetwood Mac), and in turn, would be Dirty Mac's first and only (last) performance, not to mention Lennon's first concert without the Beatles. It also was the last time the original Rolling Stones would perform live, and sadly, the last gig for Brian Jones, who would die a few months later.
Below are three reviews, one each for the CD, VHS Video and DVD. Please note that the Video Review was written before the DVD was released, and as far as the main show went, it is exacly the same show you see on the DVD. Because of this, the DVD review will only cover the extra add-ons.
Before I get into this review, I really feel that anyone who hasn't seen or heard The Rock 'n Roll Circus, should first view the video - and then get a hold of the CD.
This CD is a bit hard to review and rate, since I've seen the show countless time. I can't help but vision the photos in my mind of all the frenzied action involved in all of the performances, which you don't get to see when just listening to the CD. So I have to forget all that when reviewing this CD, since many will only have this CD to go by. Still, whenever I rate a live show and it's music, the songs usually get the benefit of the doubt, since there is no real studio magic added in to zap up a live song (most of the time, anyway), therefore, a studio version of a song that might sound better than it's live take, might not rate as high as the live cut.
The first song you get to hear on this CD, is Jethro Tull's "Song For
Jeffery". This is the only song on the CD that is not taken from the show's live
performance, but instead the studio cut is used here. Why? Guess there was some contract
problems involving Tull and it's one week band member, Tony Iommi, who played guitar at
the show. Still, it's a cool song, with a great harp played by Ian Anderson, along with
his fine flute and vocals.
The next (non-circus) music we hear comes from the bluesman Taj Mahal and his band, but the song played, "Ain't That A Lot of Love" is more rock sounding than blues, and it's a dandy! Jessie Ed Davis' lead guitar is so fine, and Tai Mahal delivers some smooth vocals.
Marianne Faithfull is next up, and I can only wonder why she picked the song that she sings here, "Something Better", she could have come up with, well, something better. Actually, her vocal output sounds good, but how far can one go with such a simple song?
Then, music wise, next up is the super group Dirty Mac (the Jagger/Lennon exchange heard before this is noted in the review below). What a treat, John Lennon sounds as great here as he does on the Beatles version of the song played, "Yer Blues", with Eric Clapton's lead guitar crying away. But what's to follow next is yet another rock first, that many rock fans didn't care for. Yoko Ono and violinist Ivry Gitlis join the Dirty Mac with what some have called the first New Wave Rock live performance. The song starts off as a nice jam, then after a bit Ono starts to scream, and this goes on for the rest of the jam. Unlike many Beatles fans, I always liked Ono, but I was never into her music, not at all, just not my cup of tea. However, this number I do like. Her screams do fit in with the music, more so than Gitlis' violin does, although it too sounds okay.
The rock circus' CD closes out with the Stones. If you heard that the band didn't sound too good on this day, don't believe it. They start off with "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and although not the strongest take of this classic song, it's still a gas to hear. Then we get a very good sounding "Parachute Woman", followed by the Stones two strongest played numbers that night, "No Expectations", with Brian Jones' slide guitar, along with Richards' acoustic guitar, both sounding as good, or maybe even better than what we hear on the studio version. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is next, at this point in time the song had not even been released yet, as the band had only recorded it weeks earlier. So nobody in the audience had heard this one before, and they were treated to one fine version of it! "Sympathy For The Devil" follows next, and the only thing missing from this live take is the "whoo whoo" backing vocals.
The CD and show closes out with a sing-a-long, with the Stones song "Salt Of The Earth". The music was pre-recorded, only the vocals you hear were live, and includes just about all who was there singing, including the audience.
Overall this makes for one fine CD, even if you never did see the video!
- - Keno, March 2004
Damn, the only bad thing about The Rock 'n Roll Circus video, is that it almost was never shown, and kept under wraps for so many years! By the time it was released, several of it's main stars were already long dead. To even call it a video is unfair, it was really a made for TV film. But what ones gets to see here is amongst the best of shows, as far as Rock n Roll goes.
Filmed in December, 1968, The Circus (officially titled The Rolling Stones Rock n Roll Circus) would not see the light of day until October 1996. Some of us lucky fans got to see it years earlier, as three different bootlegs came out around the mid 1980s. Since I have a copy of one of those boots, I will write about it too, as the official release is a bit different.
The show opens up with most (but not all) of the circus' main cast, marching on stage playing all kinds of instruments, a simple but great opening act, for sure! Mick Jagger then introduces the next act, which is Jethro Tull. Most of the fans in the audience didn't have a clue as to who this strange sounding group was, as Tull was only playing small local clubs up till this time, and nobody in rock featured a flute as one of it's main instruments. But the song played here, "Song For Jeffery" is great, with Ian Anderson looking so much younger (well, he was!), yet still, he, and in only his way, still looked older than his years! And yes, that is the future Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi who we see playing here with Tull, as he was a band member for that week only. Iommi claimed that Anderson was just too weird for him and quit the group after the show.
Next up is Keith Richards and his introduction of The Who. All I can say about what your about to see is "Holy Shit!". By far, the most powerful performance of the night, they just kicked ass here! The song played is the mini rock opera "A Quick One While He's Away". It starts off real mellow, with the entire band singing together with no music, then the song (and its music) takes off, with the usual Who live antics. Although there were a few better songs played at the Circus that night, nothing else came close to the energy that The Who would put out here. Keith Moon is his usual self, playing his drums like a madman, and his drumming is perhaps the highlight of the entire snow, that is, if you keep your eyes on him, there is just so much going on stage here!
I want to talk about the bootleg a bit here, even though most will never see it. Most of the performances cut out of the official release, but shown in the boot, are not musical, the only real exception was the classical pianist, the late Julius Katchin, who performed a piece by Chopin. Guess because it wasn't a rock number, is the reason why it didn't make the final cut, but yes, that cat could play a mean piano! Other things you see on the boot that are not in the official release are some different takes of a few songs, and also, different camera shots of performances that we don't get to see in the video. You will also notice, if you see the boot, that there is some plain out bad editing on the official version, something I'll get into when I talk about the Stones performance.
I should also note that although I'm not gonna review them, there are some short circus acts in the video to see, including a fire eater, which if I recall comes after the Who's performance.
The next music act we get is Taj Mahal and his band. They were really rocking on this night, and played "Ain't That A Lot Of Love". Even by this still early part of the show, while watching the late Jesse Ed Davis play his lead guitar, you can't help but think how many of the young stars there that night did not get to grow old.
We next get to see Marianne Faithfull sing "Something Better". She is on stage alone, sitting down on the stage floor, with recorded music backing her live vocals. Most definitely the show's most mellow bit, and noting too exciting, but damn, she does look so beautiful!
Now it's time to rock again! First up is a great little conversation between John Lennon and Jagger. They are introducing the super group, The Dirty Mac, but in only a way the two of them could. Mick calling John "Wiston" (his middle name) and John calling Mick "Michael" (which he was called as a boy). Lennon then talks about who's in the group, when he mentions that he got Mick's soul mate Richards on board, Mick snaps back "dirty!" But Lennon's backwards way of reminding Mick that he wrote one of the Stones first hit singles ("I Wanna Be Your Man"), while talking about days past, is the best kicker out of the entire dialogue, "Those were the days, I wanna hold your man" cries Lennon. After this exchange it's time for Dirty Mac. They play "Yer Blues", sounding great and played a lot like the Beatles version. Just seeing Lennon, Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix's drummer Mitch Mitchell, up there on stage and all together playing, is a trip and joy! After "Yer Blues", Yoko Ono and violinist Ivry Gitlis, join them on the stage for a Ono rock alternative song called "Whole Lotta Yoko". If you dig Yoko, you will dig this, if you don't care for her music, but understand what was going on in music scene in the late '60s, you might dig this, but if you don't care to know - or understand what was happening back then, chances are you will hate this part of the show.
It's now time for the final act, the Rolling Stones. By this time of the night, well it was really early morning, like 2 AM (and the Stones would not get done filming till after 4 AM), the Stones had been up for two straight days, what kind of shape would they be in as far as playing went? A few claimed that they were a bit off that night (including Jagger and Richards, who's statements were really just covering up the true reason why the show never aired), all I can say is check out the show - it's all hogwash, they were great! They started out playing a few old blues covers, without the cameras rolling (too bad!), then it was time for their real set. Songs played were "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Parachute Woman", "No Expectations", "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Sympathy For The Devil". In the bootleg version of the show, you see a bunch of different camera shots and can only wonder why a few of those were not used instead. The two songs that differ to view the most- from boot to video, are, "Sympathy For The Devil", and "You Can't Always Get What You Want", the latter is plain out better on boot. In fact the editing we see at the start of this song is just plain bad and not timed correctly; yes, I'll take the boot shot here! Also very obvious on this song is that in the official video (and on the CD, too) an extra guitar is dubbed in, and Brian Jones' live guitar is turned down. It's not this way on the boot, you can clearly hear Brian's guitar, and he sounds fine, so why did they do this?, who knows for sure. It should also be pointed out that this was Jones' last show with the Stones. Poor Brian was not doing too well at this point of his life, as it was, he died a few months after the show was filmed. Different people who were there that night said he really seem out of it, yet when he was on camera, he might not have looked like the Brian Jones of days past, but still, I've seen far worst shots of him (the Stones "We Love You" video comes to mind). The thing is, he was hurting, his injured left hand had just come out of a cast, yet he was still able to play. His slide guitar playing on "No Expectations" was tops, you could see him come back to life on that number, as his love for the blues took him over and brought him back for one last hurrah, for sure, this was his swan song.
The show closes out with one more Stones song, "Salt Of The Earth", but not up on stage. Everybody who was a part of the Circus is down in the audience, and this song and it's lyrics was a perfect choice for this setting! The music playing in the background is recorded, Richards starts out singing the lead vocal, then Jagger takes over, and in time, everybody joined in the singing. Once again, if you got the bootleg, your not seeing what is shown on the official release. They did two takes of this song, the boot shows the first one, which is a bit more mellow. The second take, shown on the official release, is better, and it also ends differently, when near the end Mick shouts out "Up, up" and everybody gets up and acts a little crazy to close out the show, something not done on the first take.
If you love rock n roll music - or any of the bands that took part in this rock circus, yet haven't seen the The Rock 'n Roll Circus, well see it, because you're missing a small, yet huge part of rock history! What a great show! This is a must have for any true rock fan!
- - Keno, March 2004
To listen to some soundclips from THE ROCK N ROLL CIRCUS VHS VIDEO or to purchase it, click on: Rock and Roll Circus VHS
The main Rock 'n Roll Circus show that is shown on the new DVD, is the exact same one you see on the VHS tape, so no need to review all that again, however, like all DVDs, there are a bunch of extras added in, so I'll cover all of them here.
Let me first say, in regard to the main show, the only disappointment in the DVD is that they didn't add anything to the main performances. Normally I would not complain about this, but since I do own the main bootleg to the Circus, and have seen a bunch of some of the different takes and camera angles of a few of the songs, well it was a disappointment that these were not included. But the stuff that was added, well most of it is great.
The first extra in the "Sideshow" part of the DVD, is a fairly new interview with Pete Townshend. Pete covers several bases here, first on how the Circus was thought up, second on how the song "A Quick One While He's Away", which the Who perform at the Circus, came about. Then he talks about the Circus itself, on what went down there. This last part of the interview is excellent and very enjoyable to hear.He tells us what the atmosphere that day and night was like, why he loved Yoko Ono's performance, and goes on to praises Mick Jagger to no end.
Next up are the three other songs performed that day by Taj Mahal, two blues songs, "Checking Up On My Baby" and "Leavin Trunk", both excellent, plus the ballad "Corinna". These and take two of "Ya Blues" (see below), are the only added songs that appear on the DVD.
Next is Julius Katchin's two piano pieces, "Ritual Fire Dance" and "Sonata in C, 1st Movement". I had seen these on the boot, and if your into this sound, well it's very good indeed. Katchin was introduced by Brian Jones, but to my surprise, the intro Brian gives here on the DVD is not the same one that I have on my bootleg. They did do a few takes of a few songs for the Circus, but I didn't know they did this for the intros, too. Not sure why, both of Brian's intros were okay, just a slight difference in what he says.
Katchin is followed by the second take made that night of "Ya Blues", this time with quad split screen. I like the first take better, as I don't care for the tiny quad split screen in take two. On the boot they show this second take of the song with no split screen, with many of the same camera angles that you see in quad, but they seem better on a full, non-split screen, which is what is on the boot. They should have just showed it that way here in the Sideshow, but still, it's nice to see something extra added in, so I should not complain!
The next act is "The Clowns". This is also another bit that was included on the boot. A waste of time, these two guys were not very funny, they do a routine that will remind you of the 3 Stooges a bit, just no where near as good.
The clowns are followed by "Close But No Cigar". This candid bit is great! It was the first take of the introduction for the Dirty Mac, but totally different than what was used in the end for the video. No, Mick Jagger is not eating here, instead it opens with John Lennon sitting with son Julian and girlfriend Yoko Ono. We first hear Jagger talking in the background, then John starts to say a word - but, is that a cigar that five year old Julian is smoking? Well yes! As Mick comes into the picture, Julian says to him, "I got a little cigar, a little cigar!", John meanwhile is starting to sing a word or two from "Ya Blues", as Mick at first welcomes John, then, as John is feeling up Jagger's chest (really!) and taking off his jacket, Mick joins with John in singing a bit more of "Ya Blues", while this is going on Julian tries to shove the cigar in Yoko's mouth. Finally, as Jagger backs off, John calls out "cut" and the bit is over. So, with this another lost classic with Lennon is finally shown; other than the extra Taj Mahal songs and part of the Townshend interview, this was the best of extras.
Finally, the DVD Sideshow closes out with two more things, first a Photo Gallery. Some very cool photos in here, if your one of the few who got the limited edition photo book about the Circus that came out in the '90s, then you seen some, but not all of these. Yet even if these photos are still shots, they are fun to look at! After this, to close out the Sideshow, is something that really has nothing to do with the Circus, Fatboy Slim's terrible remix of "Sympathy For The Devil", which was done in 2003. Why did they include this in here??
Although that is it for the Sideshows, there is still some audio extras to hear, comments that you can play while the Circus is running in the background. Several of the stars talk here, including Mick (very little), Keef, Bill Wyman, Yoko, Marianne Faithfull, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and several others. Some of these comments are very good, some get to be a bit on the boring side, too. But if your really into the Circus, then in time you got to hear this stuff, if not, then you might just skip this part.
Last, and least to note, some DVD "easter eggs"....On the Main Menu, highlight the menu entry for Setup and then press the Right arrow key on your remote control to highlight the logo in the lower right corner. Press the Enter key and you'll hear the voice of John Lennon saying "You read my file", followed by screens of DVD production credits, additional songwriting credits, and more......Bonus Footage: Go to the Sideshow section, which is accessible from the Main Menu, and use the Down and Left arrow keys on your remote control to highlight the scroll decoration beneath the photo of Keith Richards. Press Enter and you will see footage of "The Lovely Luna" caressing a tiger, followed by Mick Jagger posing next to the same tiger.
- - Keno October 2004
A FEW PHOTOS FROM THE CIRCUS
Click on image for larger view
Julian & John & Keith
Brian, Yoko, Julian & John
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