The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968)
Yesterday was Pete Townshend’s 70th birthday! In honor of that, lets take a look at my favorite live performance of The Who, in the seldom-seen The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. This was a concert film featuring the Stones, The Who, Jethro Tull, The Dirty Mac (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell, and Yoko Ono under a sheet), Taj Mahal, and Marianne Fathfull. That’s a pretty awesome lineup, and for the most part it’s a great concert. The Dirty Mac is an amazing ensemble of legends (minus Yoko, of course, who has literally never done anything worthwhile); Taj Mahal is outstanding; Jethro Tull is, you know, flutes and shit, they’re just ok (even though Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi is with them); and Marianne Faithfull was a standard singing pixie, who may or may not have owed her success (and her spot in this show) to snuggling up to every top male musician of the day. The show turned out to be kind of a technical disaster, and the acts took so long to set up that the Rolling Stones didn’t take the stage until 5 in the morning. And it shows, because they perform like they’re half asleep and just sat through The Amazing Spider-Man movies.
They play like it’s the last place they want to be, and while their performance is not really horrible, relatively (they’re still The Rolling Stones in their prime), it wasn’t up to their standards, so they decided to cancel the release of the film for that reason, and one other: because The Who completely and utterly blew them the fuck away. They play “A Quick One while He’s Away,” which is a mini-rock opera of sorts in that it’s divided up into four parts and tells a complete story. Some of you movie fans may recognize it from Rushmore. It’s an amazing tune played with tons of energy, and it’s no wonder that the Stones didn’t want to be upstaged like that on their own concert.
The film was finally released on DVD a few years ago (even though The Who’s performance had already been seen in their documentary The Kids are All Right, which is great, by the way) and we have the internet now, so we can all enjoy The Who at their peak, showing some of the best bands in the world how you really put on a show.