For those who love their music documentaries with more talk and behind-the-scenes footage than actual musical clips, then Eagle Rock has a goodie for you. Whereas most of the Rolling Stones DVD treasures of late have been full concerts, Totally Stripped has readjusted the weight on the scales and is giving fans a peek into the Stones world a la 1995 when they were on their Voodoo Lounge tour and recording tracks for their intimate Stripped live CD. And it is a mighty treasure they have released to their fans.
First of all, this is not just a one package deal. You have a variety to choose from, depending upon your level of Stones love: DVD/CD, DVD/LP, BluRay instead of DVD – all this pleasingly satisfying to the eyes and ears. Then you have a titillating deluxe edition that contains five discs with three complete shows (Paris, London and Amsterdam) that were featured in the documentary. It’s enough to have you panting.
Keith Richards has always been a huge fan of the acoustic guitar and doing an album of primarily stripped down versions of songs made him one happy pirate; albeit, stripped down not necessarily meaning to the bone. “It’s really fun to bring it right back down to it’s basic original point and realize why you cut it acoustically in the first place,” he says during the Tokyo studio session where they were laying down a few tracks for what would become the Stripped album. In this opening segment is where true magic comes alive. Filmed in black & white, pared down to just the band and a few tech-oriented people, barefooted producer Don Was being one of them, you hear Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood sizzle. And you don’t just hear Jagger on harmonica and Wood on slide and Watts playing brushes but you see it. You see the fabric being sewn, especially on the Robert Johnson song, “Love In Vain,” which exhales a rustic bluesy nuance with just the right amount of Stones lubricant, and “Wild Horses,” beautiful in all it’s gentleness. No bings, no whistles, just the songs.
“It’s like being on a terrible Rolling Stones game show,” Jagger says with a laugh. “Where you have to perform the ancient songs out of the book without referring back.” Which is exactly what Jagger does while performing “Spider And The Fly,” looking at a lyric sheet, and later deeming the song “difficult.” These songs, being on the original album, are not included on the CD here. The fourteen songs that do make up Totally Strippeds accompanying CD are from the three concerts they did in smaller venues. “This is a club band,” crackles Richards. “They just got bigger gigs.”
The first “live” segment is from Amsterdam: a bit of soundcheck with Richards playing slide on an acoustic, and a warmup of “Tumblin’ Dice” pre-show with Jagger, Richards, piano player Chuck Leavell and background vocalist Bernard Fowler. This is exactly what fans crave to see because they never see it in person. The Paris segment shows sax player Bobby Keys sitting in a chair talking about slipping onstage and hurting his knee but it not stopping him from visiting one of golf’s holy courses, St Andrews, and Jack Nicholson slipping into – via police escort – the show with a huge grin on his face. The final “live” portion of the documentary takes place in London at the Brixton Academy with Richards coming late to soundcheck while the rest of the band are in the middle of a slow-burning rendition of The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You” that is excellent, with and without Richards on guitar.
A lot of the musical numbers are not shown in their entirety. Just as you’re getting into “Gimme Shelter” or “Honky Tonk Women,” it cuts away to one of the guys talking or scenes of them walking around. But that’s okay because you’re with them in places you’re not allowed to go normally and that small peek is worth missing a few bars of a favorite song. Besides, that’s what the CD, and deluxe edition, is for.
Standout songs include a gospel-swaying “Shine A Light,” “Dead Flowers,” “I Go Wild,” “Love In Vain,” a slinky “Little Baby,” “Like A Rolling Stone” and “You Got Me Rocking.” Another lovely highlight is the chanting of “Charlie” by the Paris crowd, the smile on the drummer’s face genuine and priceless. Lisa Fischer’s background harmonies with Fowler, Richards looking at his acoustic and whispering, “I love you,” and the whole beginning section in the studio are also gems worth savoring. This is definitely one of the top Rolling Stones video releases, hands down. Now if only more bands would do what the Stones have been doing by releasing old concerts every few months, the music world would be a happier place indeed.