Review: Historic concert finds the Rolling Stones rocking with resolution

Rolling stones/Living at El Mocambo/UME
Four out of five stars

When, on March 4 and 5, 1977, the Cockroaches, aka the Rolling Stones, showed up unannounced for a surprise concert at Toronto’s legendary club, The El Mocambo, as a warm-up for an impending North American tour , it turned out to be one of those momentous occasions that would go down in music history. On each of those two nights, 300 unsuspecting fans crammed into the club’s intimate surroundings to catch a one-of-a-kind concert by the world’s biggest band.

Today, 45 years later, the event is still considered the stuff from which legends have sprung, not to mention one of the most talked about shows in the Stones’ sprawling 60-year history. Naturally, with much to gain and little to lose, they selected material from a special setlist, which included then-current material as well as a number of seminal standards that had rarely been played from the start – “Worried Life Blues “, “Manish Boy, “Crackin’ Up and “Little Red Rooster.” Naturally, their own standards were also included – “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Tumbling Dice” and “Honky Tonk Women” (although oddly, “Satisfaction” was omitted). In a very real sense, the performance found the band returning to their roots. He found them situated in a setting similar to their first residence at the Crawdaddy Club in sweaty London. However, more specifically, it allowed them to display the verve and variety that was often lacking in their current arena-sized environment.

Therefore, Stones fans will likely consider Living at El Mocambo a much-needed acquisition, given that it captures the full March 5 standout performance, plus three bonus tracks from the gig the band played the night before.

Naturally, the group was in top form – ragged, loud and yet perfectly prepared. After all, it coincided with the period when punk was at its peak, which makes any polished perfection seem somewhat out of step at first. The Stones didn’t need to feel part of the competition; after all, they helped launch the form a decade and a half earlier. As a result, Jagger’s strut and swagger, and Glimmer Twin Richards’ relentless riffing, sometimes seem glib, but the gig is anything but superficial. Stoic beats provided by Watts and Wyman keep the foundation intact, while Ron Wood, still “the newcomer” just two years into his tenure, fleshes out arrangements that the band’s two frontmen are able to rock with their determination.

With nearly two dozen songs spread across the two CDs, Living at El Mocambo features the essentials of the Stones in a way few of their live albums have managed to do before or since. It is, in short, breathtaking proof of the band at its best.

Photo by Helmut Newton/Rogers and Cowan

About Joan J. Hernandez

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