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Rehearsals for the R&R Circus - Londonderry Hotel - 8th December 1968
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Topic: Fascinating review for the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus Return to archive
October 21st, 2004 01:22 PM
Monkey Woman From the Hartford Advocate

When the Circus Came to Town

Mick Jagger and the Stones -- along with John Lennon, Eric Clapton, the Who and a crowd of pancho-wearing fans -- almost came unstitched during the making of this classic rock film, which is only now available on DVD

by John Adamian - October 21, 2004

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus -- a 1968 concert film featuring the Stones, the Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull and John Lennon -- was locked in the vaults for decades. That only added to the mist of legend that shrouded it.
Because, after a marathon two-day shoot, they had been upstaged by the Who, there was talk of re-filming the part with the Stones but it never happened.

"We just really didn't think that we performed very well," says Keith Richards in the commentary on the DVD of the 60's classic, which has recently been released.

Instead reshooting the Stones segment, the reels of film would languish in boxes at of the band's offices, and were almost thrown out, but someone had the thought of saving them for posterity, and instead they were stored for years in a barn until the film was put together and shown for the first time -- in 1995.

Part of the problem with polishing up the footage was that one couldn't exactly recreate the circus atmosphere, swinging London, and post Summer of Love, 1968. The year before had seen the release of the Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request , the band's mistaken venture into psychedelia in an attempt to catch up with the Beatles and Sgt. Peppers . The idea for the Rock and Roll Circus started as a touring railway-carnival show involving the Stones, the Who and the Faces. Logistics caused that to get scrapped, and Mick and the Stones settled on doing a campy circus show instead. With Monty Python-esque collage credits, the show begins fittingly with Mick as ringmaster and a precession with all the performers decked out in horned caps, brocaded vests and wizard boots. There are strong men, clowns, fire-eaters and dumpy acrobats.

Music lovers had long heard about the famously searing performance by the Who, but no one had watched the thing. Rock fans got a chance to see what all the fuss was about when the film was finally released on video in 1995. But in maddening Stones/ABKCO style, the Rock and Roll Circus has not been available on DVD until now.

A look at the film today mostly serves to cement long-held opinions about the event, the era, and the performers. If you think the Who blows all the competition away, there's plenty of supporting evidence here. If you suspect that the Stones are evil incarnate, well, you can find glimmers of dark energy surging through their performance. If you think Yoko Ono was an annoying and divisive wedge between John Lennon and his musical peers, one need not look too far for corroboration on that score. And if you insist that the Rolling Stones are "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band," the story of how they pulled this show off -- playing at 3 a.m., with the band virtually falling apart -- is one more reason to stand in awe of their stamina.

December '68 was a turning point for many of these performers. Squabbles among band members in the then unknown Jethro Tull were causing a reshaping of the line-up. Marianne Faithfull, who had had what was likely a drug-induced miscarriage just weeks before, was going from empty pop star to dark drug queen of the Stone's kingdom. The Who, just off a stretch of tour dates, were at the top of their game. The Stones were done recording Beggars Banquet , the first in the run of four records that most consider to be their best work, and Mick Jagger had recently been filming his first movie role in Performance , and the already charismatic frontman had gained a new degree of showmanship and confidence. What's more, Brian Jones, the guitarist multi-instrumentalist and founding spirit of the Stones, was puffing up like a dead fish from Olympic levels of drug and alcohol abuse. The concert turned out to be the last time Jones performed with the band, and he died roughly six months later.

Rock fans can drool over the legend that the fledgling Led Zeppelin was passed over as the opening act in favor of Jethro Tull. Other acts that either didn't, couldn't or wouldn't make it were Johnny Cash, the Isley Brothers and Steve Winwood.

The bands that did show up made the most of it. Without a steady guitarist, Jethro Tull had to mime to a backing track while frontman Ian Anderson sang, played flute and did his little one-legged flamingo dance. Seeing John Lennon and the Dirty Mac charge through the dramatic kicks and starts of "Yer Blues" is a moment in rock history. Since the Fab Four's success, it was the first time he had performed publicly without the Beatles.

What makes the Rock and Roll Circus so watchable is just how tight it is, clocking in at 65 minutes. The silly trapeze artists and fire-eaters can be passed over without missing much, as can much of the agonizing but funny blues-vamp "Whole Lotta Yoko," in which Yoko Ono (after emerging from a large black sack on the stage) screeches, shrieks and moans while Eric Clapton struggles to keep a straight face.

Arrayed in an elegant magenta dress, Marianne Faithfull sings "Something Better," a mournful Carole King and Gerry Goffin song with a Stonesy backing track.

Taj Mahal, done up like a soul rough-rider, adds energetic claps to the bluesy "Ain't That A Lot of Love." The Who burn their way through "A Quick One While He's Away," their mini opera about a young lovelorn girl who's seduced by Ivor the Engine Driver. One minute it's thrash rock, then it's Beach Boys sweetness and a cowboy gallup the next. Keith Moon's manic, open-mouthed drumming is superhuman, cramming in tight and fast rolls on the toms, smashing back and forth between cymbals. Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey swing their arms and kick their legs behind them in time. It's a riveting performance. As producer Michael Lindsay-Hogg says in the new commentary included with the DVD, "They were on fire." (There's also commentary by Mick Jagger, Ian Anderson, Taj Mahal, Yoko Ono, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards and others).

By the time the Stones got to perform the whole event was starting to come unhinged.

As Pete Townsend says in the bonus interview, "If you watch this today, you definitely get a sense that something strange is going on for the Stones."

When their time comes, the Stones launch into "Jumping Jack Flash." Mick does his famous scrawny arm-flapping, but the band obviously struggles to build up enough steam. Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman all look aloof and cool. Brian Jones looks bleary-eyed, bloated and wasted, but when it comes time to play his sweet slide part on "Parachute Woman," he is obviously still in control of the music.

"I remember not remembering everything towards the end," says Richards. "It was really ramshackle. After 20 hours, you either lost the thread totally, or you were just getting the hang of it."

What's fascinating about the Stones' performance is how Mick Jagger pushes through the lull with his showmanship. As Lindsay-Hogg says, "It is only Mick's will power that keeps the Rolling Stones going."

As with farewell tours, greatest hits collections, and rhythm guitarists, the Stones have had their share of rock movies -- Gimme Shelter and Goddard's Sympathy For the Devil being the two most famous ones -- but with its pivotal timing, the way it captures the Stones playing for an audience of rock royalty, and the huge hurdles of pulling off the ambitious production, The Rock and Roll Circus is certainly the most enjoyable one to watch and it may be the most revealing.


They also put a pic from the DVD on the cover:

[Edited by Monkey Woman]
October 21st, 2004 06:42 PM
J.J.Flash Thanks for the article babe. I must know what are the differences between this new release and the old brazilian one? Please, I need this information. Thank in advance.
[Edited by J.J.Flash]
October 21st, 2004 06:54 PM
Monkey Woman Sure! The main difference is in the bonus material. The Brazilian DVD was the same as the 1996 VHS edition. Here's a review of the bonuses from

"The DVD comes with some fascinating bonus features, including three extra songs by Mahal, some lovely classical piano by Julius Katchen, and a "quad split-screen" version of "Yer Blues." Best of all are a new interview with the Who's Pete Townshend and the various commentary tracks added for the DVD--especially those by Tull's Ian Anderson, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and Stones Jagger, Richards, and Bill Wyman (who dryly attributes Jagger's reluctance to issue the show to his dissatisfaction with his own performance, not the band's). Flaws notwithstanding, this is a treat. --Sam Graham "

I have a copy of the Brazilian DVD but I'll buy the new one as soon as it is released here in Europe.
October 21st, 2004 06:59 PM
Monkey Woman BTW, here's a discussion of technical quality of the DVD found also on Amazon:

"Tech specs... and compared to Brazilian version, October 19, 2004
Reviewer: P. Calcroft "DVD muse" (Sydney Australia) -

For those, like me, who own the Brazilian version of Rock and Roll Circus, and are wondering whether it's worth the upgrade. The short answer is yes. There's a modest improvement in video quality and a significant improvement on the audio side. There are two main audio tracks...a) 2.0 Stereo LPCM at 1536 Kbps, and b) Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps. My preference is for the DD 5.1. The video is framed at 4:3 full frame. The disc is encoded for ALL Regions. The included audio commentaries are very good, as is the interview segment with Pete Townshend. Pete's observations are revealing, interesting and entertaining.
All in all...a well presented package.
Now if we can only get The Stones and ABKCO to release "Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones", to DVD...then I really would be happy!!"
October 21st, 2004 07:07 PM
JumpingKentFlash Great find. Thanks. When does it come out in Europe???
October 21st, 2004 07:10 PM
J.J.Flash Thanks for the elucidation Monkey Woman. Thanks and glad you are back.
October 21st, 2004 07:30 PM
glencar It's already out in the USA so it should be out in Europe too.
October 21st, 2004 10:46 PM
Soldatti It's #7 on Billboard's Top Music Videos
October 22nd, 2004 01:31 AM
corgi37 I'll get it for sure. And, as the reviewer from Sydney says: Where is L&G??

I want that with extra stuff, ya better believe it!
October 22nd, 2004 05:28 AM
Monkey Woman It's coming to our shores next Monday (Oct. 25th)
October 22nd, 2004 08:32 AM
star star ...must remember to pop into the local woolworths, see if they've got it in, those reviews have really helped,
nice one!