If Some Girls is considered by many to be the last great Stones album, does that mean the tour that followed its release was the last great tour? If a fully-engaged band stripped to its core and rocking their collective asses off is the measure of such, then the answer is yes. And the recently-released concert video Some Girls – Live in Texas ’78 is the proof.
The original Some Girls album hit the streets hard in June of 1978, with a slap like a pair of defibrillator paddles on a flatlining chest. Indeed, the Stones were out to prove that they were very much alive, morphing the tune trends of the times – punk and disco – into their sound just as they did with Chicago blues, country, and R&B in the past. Guitarist Ron Wood had leapt over the void left by the departure of Mick Taylor, nestling nicely into a completely different niche: shoulder-to-shoulder guitbro to Keith Richards. Gone were the majestic stand-alone Taylor leads; in their place was a blend of lead-rhythm-who-gives-a-shit-let’s-play that was all about the groove.
Richards himself was standing at a personal crossroad: the heroin hadn’t killed him yet, but it had gotten him into serious trouble with the law. He wouldn’t be tried until October of 1978, but the threat of “what if” was enough: when the Stones hit the road on the heels of the release of Some Girls, it was with a smack-free Keef. Of all the contrasts between Live In Texas ’78 and last year’s DVD release of Ladies & Gentlemen … The Rolling Stones (recorded during the 1972 tour), the sheer light that radiated from Keith Richards in the summer of ’78 is the most noticeable. In 1972, Richards was head-down and burrowed into the vibe (and the demons crawling up his spine), hanging on and playing like his life depended on it. By the time of the Some Girls tour he was totally alive and digging it. He grins at his bandmates with sheer joy at a kick-ass groove; he ducks, bobs, and weaves with Wood; he bows to Charlie Watts’ drums and wedges riffs in between Bill Wyman’s bass lines. And when Keef wangs his Tele into the mic stand during the second chorus of “Happy”, the looks exchanged between he and Mick Jagger are priceless: in that instant, they’re the two soul buddies of the old days – manchilds at the mercy of the music of their own making.
There’s much to be seen of Mr. Jagger in Live In Texas ’78, of course: multiple camera angles and tail-gunner lens panning do an exceptional job of capturing Mick in motion. Some of the slinkiness of the ’72 tour was now replaced by frantic high-stepping and arm-flailing that resembled a spastic aerobics instructor at times, but the overall effect is still mesmerizing. When Jagger walks the stage during “Miss You” he looks uncertain and lost for a moment – has he forgotten the words? Hell, no – Mick’s playing the part; he’s walking Central Park after dark. And yes: in that moment, he truly looks crrrrraaaaazy.
Ron Wood is the target for much of Jagger’s antics: Mick makes faces at him; stares at him while pacing circles around him; grabs his ass, blows him kisses, and snaps the cigarette from Woody’s mouth and flicks it aside. Through it all, Wood plays some hellish guitar – tackling classic Taylor-era tunes like “All Down The Line” and “Love In Vain” in his own manner and succeeding at nailing the songs’ souls. Wood trades Chuck Berryish licks with Richards on “Let It Rock” and “Sweet Little 16”, formation flying with just-right reckless abandon. And he even sits at the pedal steel for a killer twangfest on “Far Away Eyes” (featuring Jagger at the pianny and a cameo by ol’ Doug Kershaw on fiddle).
There was no backline of vocalists for the Some Girls tour; no phantom guitar by Blondie Chaplin to fill in the holes if Richards threw his arms in the air from the sheer joy of the moment. Other than the core five of Jagger, Richards, Wood, Wyman, and Watts, the only additional players were Ian McLagen on keys and the late Ian Stewart on beautiful barrel-assing piano. And that was all that was needed.
Sound mix on the DVD is exceptional, with particular emphasis on Bill Wyman’s portion of the sonic territory – and with good reason. Wyman may have been playing with two fingers splinted together on his fretting hand (he’d injured his hand taking a tumble while coming off a stage just days earlier), but you’d never know it by listening to him. From the extended disco-influenced-but-total-Stonesy-snakedance jam of “Miss You” to a driving, thrusting version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, Wyman’s playing is dead-nuts-on; suitably raunchy, yet always tasteful. And Charlie Watts is … Charlie Watts. Locked in the pocket and even grinning at times (Richards’ smiles are infectious), Watts drives the beast from the backseat in classic form.
Song of the set: Quite possibly “When the Whip Comes Down”, where the Stones out-Doll The New York Dolls trying to out-Stone the Stones. “Whip” has it all: killer riffs by Wood and Richards; Wyman bass work that soars, roars, swoops, and hurdles down the frets before charging back up the neck; fierce locomotive drumming by Watts; and an aura of cool decadence.
Tug-at-the-heartstrings moment: Just before the credits start to roll up across the screen, as the camera follows a stripped-to-the-waist, sweaty Jagger off the left side of the stage. The round of the spotlight pans across the wall of amps and speakers; Jagger disappears into the shadows; and for just a moment, you see Ian Stewart peering out over a stack of road cases. Then the screen fades to black. (Stewart died of a heart attack in 1985.)
Bonus features on Some Girls – Live In Texas ’78 include footage from the Stones’ appearance on Saturday Night Live that same year, along with a 2011 interview with Mr. Jagger. It’s all gravy atop an already much-worth-having DVD, though: my God, but they were good.