I remember when this show happened. I was in high school and many of my friends were buzzing about The Stones having played in this small club in Canada. Some were anticipating a similar engagement of The Cockroaches (their alias for the stealth event) in the U.S., with rumors of a Bottom Line (legendary NY club) appearance making the rounds (at least amongst my friends!).
When the Love You Live album came out around that time, many people seemed kind of disappointed with it (I’ve come to like it over the years, actually).
But then in 1978 the Some Girls album happened and everyone I knew pretty much forgot about Love You Live and was just focused on the “new” and harder rocking Stones of the moment. Looking back, the biggest issue with Love You Live is that most of the recordings on it were sourced from the 1975 tour. And, as we now hear on the new Live At The El Mocambo collection, the Stones were well beyond that somewhat lackluster period, playing with a new found edginess. Ronnie Wood — who had joined the band in ’75 after The Faces folded — was also now more fully integrated into the band’s sound by then too.
It is worth noting that part of this “edge” — perhaps — also had to do with the escalating punk and new wave movements creeping up around the band at the time. I do remember thinking on the first time I heard “Shattered” on Some Girls that this was The Stones responding to the punkers and showing how raw they could still rock (and rock they did!).
There is also no doubt that the band was on pins and needles because of Keith Richards’ uncertain and scary legal issues there in Canada at that time. And, I just read that on top of all this one of Keith’s young children passed away unexpectedly, the news reaching him just before showtime (wow, I can’t begin to imagine how rock bottom he must have felt at that time). But the show had to go on and clearly for a few hours those nights the band pushed everything aside and just rocked their woes and the world away.
So now we have this fabulous new album Live At The El Mocambo and my only complaint is that it really should have been issued ages ago! In defense of the band I can understand why it was probably shelved — as soon as Some Girls came out, everything changed with regards to their set list and such. But still, this album would have been an amazing teaser.
This version of “Hot Stuff” rocks the proto-disco funk super madly here and the guitar solo smokes. Just for yuks, I went back to compare it to the 1975 version included on Love You Live and there is absolutely no contest — two years of playing the tune live coupled with the precarious ledge that the band was traversing leads to an energy that completely trounces the earlier version.
Live At The El Mocambo sounds great! Newly mixed by Bob Clearmountain, this album feels like how I’d always hoped a kick-ass live Stones album would sound. This isn’t the polished slickness of the 1981 tour document Still Life which I never liked despite its massive popularity at the time. (side note: the band did rectify that issue with the recent release of the full 1982 Wembley concert, which I reviewed last year, click here if you missed it). And it is much richer and vibrant sounding than Love You Live.
No doubt originally recorded on analog tape (hey, it was 1977 folks, well before digital), Live At The El Mocambo had some sort of digital stage for editing (per the album credits). But worry not analog purists, this album sounds terrific. The music is raw and rich, yet with a nice sense of dynamic range. It sounds especially good when you pump up the volume on your Stereo, giving the listener a solid blast of remarkably clear instrument detailing. In particular when I did turn things up a bit, I sensed no harsh digital edges (which would have annoyed my ears). So, extra kudos go out to Mr. Clearmountain — and also to Bernie Grundman who cut the lacquers used for pressing the vinyl discs — for paying attention to those important productions details which can make the difference between a good and great vinyl listening experience.
Speaking of vinyl, the 180-gram black pressings are thick, dark, quiet and well centered, a detail you can even appreciate on something like a raucous Rolling Stones gig in a small club with only 300 people in attendance. Live At The El Mocambo was manufactured in France which interesting, underscoring how backed up manufacturing facilities are around the world these days, prompting labels to source production in diverse locations beyond Germany, the Czech Republic and Kansas.
It is really sweet hearing Billy Preston’s organ pushing and piano percolating through the mix on tracks like “Star Star” and “Tumbling Dice.” Charlie Watts is playing with an extra assertive pulse it seems and the recording is very tight. Listen close and you can feel how locked in to the groove he and Bill Wyman are on tunes like “Hot Stuff.” And they even preview new tracks that wouldn’t be released for some time such as “Worried About You” which didn’t come out until 1981’s Tattoo You. The separation on “Little Red Rooster” is especially nice with Keith and Ronnie’s twin slide guitars filling up each speaker.
I don’t purport to be the world’s top authority on the Stones, but this is the first live version of “Lets Spend The Night Together” I’ve heard that sounds just right and feels like it is working well in a concert setting (the song is from my favorite Stones studio album, Between The Buttons, which is very much a product of the studio).
They play songs like “Rip This Joint” and even fan favorites like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as if their lives depended on it. This album captures the band in a peak moment.
You can find Live At The El Mocambo streaming in fine sounding 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity via Qobuz Hi Res (click here) and on Tidal in (MQA) Master Quality Audio (click here). It is also on Apple Music (click here)
For the majority of us who never got to see the Stones playing in a small club, Live At The El Mocambo is probably the next best thing. Essential listening if you like The Rolling Stones.