1969 was a pivotal year for The Rolling Stones. It saw the end of one era with the death of guitarist Brian Jones and the beginning of another with the arrival of Mick Taylor as his replacement. It also saw the band return to the road for the first time in two years. On July 5, 1969, just two days after Jones' passing, the band performed a free concert at Hyde Park in London. Upwards of half a million fans attended the gig, which was filmed by Granada TV for a documentary, The Stones In The Park, and marked the first live performance by the band with Taylor. As part of the band's From The Vault series, the show has been remastered and is available on Blu-ray as The Rolling Stones From The Vault: Hyde Park Live 1969.
At just under an hour in length, this is not the complete concert. Many songs are presented in edited form, though it should be noted that the second half of the documentary features many complete performances as well. The documentary attempts to capture the festival feel of the day, and is a great time capsule with many shots of Stones fans - both hippies and otherwise - demonstrating the wide culture gap of the day. The narration points out that there are mods and hippies in the crowd, and that the Stones have been leaders of both groups, but that this show as about bringing everyone together.
There is footage of Jagger, Marianne Faithful and Jagger's son Nicholas getting their limousine ride to the gig. We also get to see some great backstage footage, including extensive interviews with Mick Jagger. Ever the businessman, Jagger points out the reasoning for a free show, saying that after the support groups and everyone else involved with a performance get paid, there isn't much left for the band anyhow. It's an ironic statement, given the lofty prices of some of the bands current tickets, but it was also a very different time. There is also killer footage of Keith Richards and Taylor rehearsing the Johnny Winter song, "I'm Yours & I'm Hers" backstage before the show. The band actually opened with the track, which had just been released a month earlier and it was the first - and only - time they have ever performed it in concert. The song showcases Taylor's considerable slide guitar skills.
As for the rest of the music, the band performs an interesting set list, including songs such as "I'm Free," which is given a bluesy reading here and "Mercy Mercy," which is sadly not included (though video footage exists). Songs such as "Honkey Tonk Women" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" are at their grimey, dangerous best. Despite the fact that the guitars, particularly Richards', aren't always in tune (which Taylor blamed on the weather), this is a vital performance and a harbinger of the great things to come from this lineup. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 18-minute version of "Sympathy for The Devil," complete with African drummers and dancers that finds the band really pushing the envelope.
The video is presented in 1080i High Definition 16:9 (4:3 PB) and has been restored to be as clean as possible in 2015. Audio options include LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no bonus features, which is unfortunate as this would have been an ideal place to put the existing additional footage for songs such as "Mercy Mercy" and "Stray Cat Blues."
The Stones' Hyde Park gig remains one of the most important of the band's career. It proved they could survive without Brian Jones and ushered in an exciting new era with Mick Taylor. While it would have been nice to have complete footage of all the songs, The Rolling Stones From The Vault: Hyde Park Live 1969 is nevertheless essential viewing for all Rolling Stones fans.