Blu-ray Review: The Rolling Stones - Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live

44 years later, the Stones return to Hyde Park triumphant.
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Forty-four years ago, The Rolling Stones played one of the most famous gigs -- not just in Stones' history, but also in rock history -- when they performed a free concert at Hyde Park in London, England. Former guitarist, Brian Jones, had died just two days before and new guitarist, Mick Taylor, was set to make his live debut in front of upwards of 500,000 fans. The show has become a defining moment in Stones lore, so it is only fitting that the band, now celebrating their 50th anniversary, should close out their tour with two shows at the historic venue -- the first time they had played there since 1969. The shows were filmed and make up the Blu-ray, The Rolling Stones -- Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live.

From the opening, iconic, notes of "Start Me Up," the band performed with renewed enthusiasm, defying their advanced ages. Guitarist Ronnie Wood is sober and his playing has improved dramatically as a result. Similarly, Keith Richards, whose fall from a tree during the band's last tour greatly diminished his stage presence, seems inspired by Wood's strong playing and, not wanting to be shown up, is playing some of his best guitar in years. It's all on the duo these days, as, aside from Mick Jagger picking up a guitar on occasion, there are no additional guitarists such as Blondie Chaplin to pick up the slack this time. Jagger is, as a performer, ageless, commanding the stage as well as he did decades ago and joking that he could still fit into his clothes from 1969.

The cameras focus on single members of the audience during a strong "Ruby Tuesday." Richards lends heartfelt backing vocals in this spot-on rendition of the 1967 classic. Richards emulates his hero, Chuck Berry, on guitar during a spirited "It's Only Rock 'N' Roll." In spite of their warhorse status, the band plays these songs enthusiastically and it comes through in the performance.

While the tour was a greatest hits affair, their latest best of, Grrr!, included two new tracks, one of which -- "Doom And Gloom" is featured here. The track includes Jagger on guitar and is as hard rocking a song as they have done in some time. The song comes off well live and proves the band is not completely stuck in the past at least.

Closing the circle, as Richards likes to call it, was a guest appearance by Taylor on two songs. It only seemed fitting that Taylor would join the band at the venue where he played his first show, lending his electric guitar talents to a blistering "Midnight Rambler" and, in a nod to the original studio version, acoustic guitar on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The three guitarists made it work, all playing off one another, never getting in each other's way musically.

For his solo portion, Richards gives a strong vocal on the Let It Bleed gem, "You Got The Silver." Wood offers some excellent slide guitar on the piece. Wood switches to pedal steel for "Happy," as the band gives a spirited performance of this signature Keith tune.

Lisa Fischer gets to shine on a potent "Gimme Shelter," still as powerful today as it was in 1969 while the crowd starts the "woo woo!" chants the instant the familiar drum into to "Sympathy For The Devil" begins. Bathed in red light and smoke, Jagger casts a menacing figure in a frilly black robe. Song after song, the Stones are as strong as they have been in ages during the show.

The video is presented in 1080/59.84i High Definition Widescreen 16:9 (1.78:1) and looks fantastic. Audio options include LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio. The mix is clear and all the instruments and vocals are easily discernable. Bonus features include three more live performances, including a fun romp through "Emotional Rescue."

It only took 44 years, but The Rolling Stones made history at Hyde Park again. The shows culminated a triumphant 50th anniversary tour and while no one knows what the future holds, if this is the end of the line, The Rolling Stones -- Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live is a fine live document of the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.