I can safely state, with only the slightest hint of humor and irony, that as I watched Shine A Light, I witnessed for all intents and purposes a live concert. This has more to do with my surrounding atmosphere than the actual film itself, though the style and magnitude of the film certainly help matters. Also rest assured I am not fooling myself as some members of our audience may have. It was a film, images captured on celluloid and projected a million times a day in a thousand cinemas. But as I sat surrounded by other Rolling Stones fans; some giving the "we-want-a-show" clap as if the band could actually hear it, some wearing concert t-shirts (finally answering the question, "Is there anything more lame than wearing a concert t-shirt to a concert?"), I became convinced that even if I wasn't watching the greatest concert film or the greatest Rolling Stones performance or the greatest Martin Scorsese-directed film involving Rolling Stones music, I was at the very least enjoying the most economically satisfying manner by which to enjoy this band in their contemporary form. If you're not blessed with cash or if you've been wondering what you've been missing for the last 20 years by not seeing a band 30 years past its prime, then this film is the best way to do experience them. That may be reason enough for its existence.
There are nitpicky bits of editing to be sure (frantic editing in Imax = kind of irritating. Steady shots where you can almost imagine yourself on stage with the band = badass), but they only qualify as nuisances because they take us away from the music, which is the freakin' point! Fortunately, the worse use of this technique occurs with the opening song, so you only have to endure four minutes worth before getting past it. As far as the songs themselves, it is worth noting that many of the best songs of the night came from the latter half of Stones' legacy, which is something I never thought I would write, but it makes sense when you think about it. These later-generation tunes were all tracks grown from the Ron Wood era we presently occupy. It stands to reason that they might play them with more authority than those of the Jones or Taylor eras. While this may sound dismaying to Let It Bleed lovers, it should be encouraging to Stones fans in general. Here is a band playing good songs well. Period. What's most startling about these performances (particularly "Shattered" and "She Was Hot") is that they absolutely supplant the album cuts. I personally always stopped playing 1978's Some Girls (represented here with FOUR cuts and no "Miss You") after "Beast of Burden," skipping the "shadoobies" of the album closer. Here, with an invigorated Darryl Jones bass line and ferocious swirling guitars, "Shattered" becomes one of the best songs of the night, no small feat considering the highlights to follow. Celebrity duets may appear to be forced when considered rationally, but it's great to hear "Loving Cup" by any means, and the more Buddy Guy the world hears, the better.
Just as the band itself continues to entertain beyond its prime, the success of their past should not be held against the achievements of their present. "Shine a Light" does not replace "Gimme Shelter" any more than A Bigger Bang replaces Beggars Banquet, but none of the later entries were meant to replace anything. We can romanticize those old documents into something the Stones will never be again (and maybe never even were), but they are not gone. Besides, when's the last time you heard of a live Stones show with more Exile on Main Street cuts than Sticky Fingers? When's the last time a song like "She Was Hot" out did "Sympathy For the Devil?" When was the last time you were on a stage with Keith Richards? Here now is the recipe for an enjoyable night at this virtual concert:
1) Do not listen to pre-Ron Wood era albums ad nauseum preceding the show. Instead, make a short collection of greatest hits from 1977 on, which may include any of their live albums.
2) See it in IMAX. I'm sure you could have fun at a regularly sized screen, but you've got to overpay a little to see the Stones nowadays.
3) Sit near the crazy fans. My wife and I were a little uneasy when we realized we were sitting next to a woman who came to dance and clap and yell, but once we realized what we were watching, she suddenly seemed like the coolest person in the room. These people would be irritating if you were watching a regular movie. As this is not a regular movie, the crazies will only add to the illusion.