DVD Review: The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus (Deluxe Edition)

More than 50 years after it was recorded and almost 25 years after it was first released, The Rolling Stones infamous Rock And Roll Circus gets the deluxe treatment.

It was December, 1968, when the cream of England’s rock royalty convened at a TV studio in London to make, what was to be a TV special promoting The Stones’ new album, Beggars Banquet, just released the previous week.

On hand for the fun were Jethro Tull (with stand-in guitarist Tony Iommi), The Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, Yoko Ono and a makeshift band called The Dirty Mac, consisting of Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Richards and John Lennon.   And, of course The Rolling Stones.

This, in addition to various clowns, juggling acts and high wire artists.

Yes, to quote Ian Hunter, the rock & roll circus was in town.

This restored programme (long thought lost), was finally released on DVD in 2004 after a cinematic release in 1996.

The reasons why it never made it to the small screen back in the 60s are fairly obvious. This was Brian Jones’ last appearance with The Stones, and he is a shell of his former self. The burnt-out guitarist only manages to show off a bit of his talent while playing the slide guitar during No Expectations…otherwise he is a ghost. Jones would be officially released from the band he founded a few months later, and dead by July 1969.

Meanwhile, The Stones overall performance is somewhat lacklustre. This turned into a marathon shoot and The Stones ended up recording their segment last. Only Mick Jagger, the ringmaster with seemingly endless energy, comes off well. Sympathy For The Devil is simply mesmerizing, and it’s Jagger who makes it work.

The real curiosity is The Dirty Mac and it is fun to watch Clapton, Lennon, Mitchell and Richards sink their teeth into Yer Blues. This was probably Lennon’s first public performance since The Beatles retired from the stage and he sounds awesome.

The jam session featured in the bonus section is cool, but somewhat pointless and the brief attempt at Revolution, which is previously unreleased, is cool, but, somewhat half-hearted…it was never meant for public consumption.

The Who are on fire performing their mini-opera A Quick One While He’s Away, although I would have preferred to hear I Can See For Miles.

To be honest, this new deluxe version doesn’t add much to the previous release. There are two discs of the video, a Blu-Ray and a DVD, plus two CDs, one with the original soundtrack and one with outtakes such as Revolution and a few extra Taj Mahal tunes…plus Brian Jones’ barely coherent introduction of pianist Julius Katchen.

For me, the most interesting bit was the video interview with Pete Townshend in which he notes the influence of Faces bass man Ronnie Lane and tells how he met with Jagger to potentially take this show on the road in the US.

Now that would have been something to see!

Instead, what we have is a relic of a bygone era, when rock gods wandered unimpeded, dreaming of the most outrageous things they could do, and then did them.

Marty Duda