Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2003)
Back in the Eighties, Keith Richards once stated that he felt no interest in a solo career and that if he took that path, it essentially meant he’d failed. As I recall, he noted that he saw no point in making music outside of the Rolling Stones, so if he did so, it must mean that he’d not managed to keep that band intact.
With that statement as a backdrop, we can glean the state of the Stones in 1988. That year, Keith created his first solo record, Talk Is Cheap, and embarked on his own tour as well. Given that he once claimed he’d slit Mick Jagger’s throat if the singer hit the road without the Stones, this action seemed somewhat hypocritical, but it also reflected the reality of 1988, which appeared to indicate that the Stones no longer existed as a band.
Obviously, things changed, since 14 years later, the Stones currently are on their fourth American tour since 1988. Matters altered rapidly, actually, as the band’s induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in early 1989 led Mick and Keith to patch up their strained relationship and bring the band back together. Barely eight months after the performance documented in Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos: Live At the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988, the Stones were back at work in US stadiums.
The reunion of the Stones didn’t end Keith’s solo career, as he put out another record in 1992 with Main Offender. However, that album created less of a stir than did Cheap, which attracted more attention given the band’s moribund state. I picked up a copy of Cheap and saw Keith play when he came to DC in November 1988, but I did so mainly because I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to see the Stones. Jagger’s solo tour never made it to America – as I recall, he played nowhere other than Asia and Australia – so Keith’s concert gave me possibly my only chance to see a Stone up close.
Not that Keith didn’t put out some fairly good music on his own, and Palladium documents that part of his career pretty well. Not surprisingly, most of the tunes come from Talk Is Cheap. We find eight numbers from that release: “Take It So Hard”, “How I Wish”, “I Could Have Stood You Up”, “Make No Mistake”, “Big Enough”, “Whip It Up”, “Locked Away” and “Struggle”. The remaining four songs all appeared on Stones albums, but two offer covers. “Too Rude” showed up on 1986’s Dirty Work and rejiggered “Winsome” by reggae star Half Pint. Though the Stones’ version remains very well known, “Time Is On My Side” was a cover of the original from Irma Thomas.
That leaves two actual Jagger/Richards original of the 12 songs on this DVD. “Happy” stands as possibly the best-known Keith vocal on any Stones album, as the track from 1972’s Exile On Main Street remains a concert staple 30 years later. Much more obscure, “Connection” comes from 1967’s Between the Buttons, and it seems like an odd choice since Mick and Keith shared lead vocals on it.
Whatever the origins of the songs, Palladium provides a brisk and lively performance. As far as I can tell, the DVD contains all but one of the tunes performed that night. Another number from Cheap, “Rockawhile” apparently followed “Connection”, but they dropped it from this disc. The DVD’s hour-long running time may make it seem awfully short for a full concert, especially when you consider that Stones concerts typically run more than two hours. However, Keith preferred the “short and sweet” method; he thought back to the concert models of the Fifties and early-mid Sixties, when the Stones and other acts played only a half an hour or so. This meant that his 1988 performances didn’t clock in at too much more than an hour.
That seems fine with me, as a little Keith goes a long way. He never intended to be a front man, and he doesn’t appear totally comfortable with the role. Granted, he comes across better than someone such as Ringo Starr, who looked terribly out of place during his first solo tour in 1989, but Keith still gives off the aura of a man who’d rather be on the side of the stage.
Nonetheless, he does his best, and he cranks through the songs at a good pace. It helps that so much of Cheap comes across like Stones material. Jagger always tried harder to differentiate his solo work with the band’s tunes, but that seems more appropriate for Mick. Part of Keith’s mystique blends with the Stones, so it feels more logical that he doesn’t attempt to stray too far from his template.
That means we get a mix of hard-charging rockers, gravelly ballads, and a little reggae to boot. The rockers work the best, as tracks like “Take It So Hard”, “How I Wish” and “Whip It Up” would have fit in nicely on any Stones record. I could live without Keith’s attempts at reggae, but the ballads seem fairly good. “Make No Mistake” manages to sound rough and sweet at the same time, for example.
As for the numbers associated with the Stones, they provide a more mixed bag. “Too Rude” left me cold on Dirty Work, and it doesn’t succeed better here. “Time Is On My Side” comes across as unusual because Keith passes the lead vocal to supplemental singer Sarah Dash. Was this some sort of slap at Mick in that Keith had a woman perform Jagger’s lead vocal? I don’t know, but it makes the number oddly ineffectual. After all, I didn’t get this disc to hear Sarah Dash sing, and I don’t really understand why Keith chose to revive this song in this way.
”Happy” remains fairly true to the recorded version, except for the fact it goes on forever at the end. Stones fans know that they always extend their closing songs for years; there are some very long versions of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” out there, as they present elongated instrumental riffs. I prefer short and sweet, so this “Happy” seems decent but not a great rendition.
A more startling choice, “Connection” sounds somewhat sloppy, and Keith’s exceedingly rough vocals don’t substitute for Mick’s originals. Still, it’s a great little hidden gem of a song, so it’s a lot of fun to hear it live for the first time ever; the Stones never played it at any of their own shows. The band kicks it into a fairly high gear and makes this one of the highlights of the concert.
Given the simplicity of the performance itself, I’m pleased to report that the video’s director didn’t try to make it a visual extravaganza. Instead, we find a simple but effective presentation. The program conveys the material reasonably well with a minimum of flash and fuss. We see some backstage shots before and after the concert, but nothing detracts from the performance itself. Clean and effective, the video portrays the show as they occurred, and we see none of the usual annoying quick cutting and nonsense that ruins so many concert programs.
Not many folks prefer solo Keith Richards to his work with the Stones, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t produce some good material during that interlude. Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos: Live At the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988 presents a solid concert from Keith’s first solo tour, and it represents the original performance fairly well.