At this point I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that The Rolling Stones have discovered the fountain of youth and drank heartily from its restorative waters. How can this positively geriatric collaboration exude so much energy and passion even after all these years?
For the first time in Cuban history a major international rock group came to tour, and what a group to start with. Close your eyes. Ignore the baying Havanan crowd. Appreciate the honest purity of their music. The live performances of their whimsical blues-rock melodies stay mostly true to the original versions in sound, energy and spirit. It isn’t often that a band sounds exactly the same from studio to stage yet, despite the unstoppable marching of time, the Stones do exactly that. Foot stomping rhythms and powerful guitar riffs meet the unmistakable vocals of Mick Jagger for your auditory pleasure as they have done for decades.
My question is this: is it necessarily a good thing that this live album sounds so much like a studio album? Take away Mick Jagger’s attempts at Spanish in his broad English accent between songs and you essentially have a rehashed greatest hits album. The Rolling Stones are one of my all-time favourite bands – I’ve grown up with Brown Sugar blaring since before I could walk – but this album is, unfortunately, uninspiring. As far as live performances go, it isn’t even their best attempt.
The album starts well with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, followed by a rendition of It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It) that is truly reminiscent of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, a very clear influence on their music. The pace begins to slow a few more songs in with Out Of Control, Angie, and Paint It Black, before quickly resuming in the well-known up-tempo and hard-hitting sound of the Stones with Honky Tonk Woman.
Halfway through the set Jagger hands over the reigns to Keith Richards, who performs his breathtaking renditions of You Got The Silver and Before They Make Me Run. Richards provides perhaps the most refreshing change of pace throughout the entire album all while performing two of their lesser known songs – before this point I felt a little swamped by Jagger’s piercing vocals and characteristically aggressive singing style, but Richards proved a saving grace in what was soon becoming a repetitive rigmarole. Slowing down the tempo, soothing the crowd, and emphasising a careful and thoughtful performance over passion and excitement really adds another layer to this album. Almost all too soon Richards returns the microphone to Jagger.
With the exception of Gimme Shelter, the rest of the album becomes steeped in tedium and self-indulgence: songs originally three or four minutes long are doubled and tripled in length. Songs like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, already quite repetitive, become an exercise in self-discipline when avoiding the skip button. With a total run-time of 116 minutes, patience truly is a virtue in the back half of the album.
What makes this album so unique is the backdrop, the context, the story of the show. In fact, Havana Moon first featured as a film in cinemas. Havana Moon is meant to be an experience, it’s meant to be enjoyed on the big screen where Keith Richards’ solos and Mick Jagger’s flamboyant front-man persona can be truly appreciated and enjoyed. Without that, you are left with a forgettable rendition of what should be fantastic music. There are bright sparks and deep troughs alike in this album and, for that reason, I would not write it off. If you love The Rolling Stones and have the time to spare, there’s no reason not to listen to Havana Moon, but if you never listened it would be no great loss.