The Rolling Stones: The Biggest Bang uses two different aspect ratios for its main discs. The Texas show appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on its single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The Rio concert came in a ratio of 1.33:1, which meant it lacked 16X9 enhancement.
First things first: Zilker looked great. Sharpness seemed solid. Virtually no softness marred the presentation, as even in wide shots, the image remained tight and concise. This was top-notch stuff. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws looked absent, and I saw no issues related to artifacting, noise, or other distractions.
The majority of the colors came from lighting. Those hues looked well developed and accurate, as even the thickest lighting remained distinctive and rich. Some clothing also presented visual breadth, and those elements came across in a similarly full, dynamic manner. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots came across as clear and appropriately visible. The Zilker show consistently offered fine visuals and earned an “A“.
The choice to film Rio 1.33:1 surprised me, as I’d think any project of this nature shot in 2006 would be 1.78:1. Whatever the rationale for that decision, Rio didn’t look nearly as good as Austin. Sharpness took the main hit. Though much of Rio presented pretty solid delineation, more than a few soft elements emerged. As expected, the wider we went, the less defined the picture appeared. Given the size of this show, broader shots popped up frequently, and they came across as rather indistinct. I also noticed occasional examples of jaggies and shimmering, though no edge enhancement or source flaws occurred.
In contrast with the tight tones of Austin, Rio’s colors seemed a little messier. To be sure, they usually showed pretty nice delineation, but they could be just a bit loose at times. Blacks were still deep and dense, but low-light shots suffered from some minor murkiness. Though this was still good enough for a “B-“, it disappointed after the stellar visuals of the first show.
Biggest Bang featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The pair seemed very similar. If any notable differences occurred, I couldn’t discern them.
In terms of the soundfields, the Austin show opened up the concert well and presented very good stereo imaging. The mixes went with a pretty standard soundscape for a concert presentation. Most of the audio stayed in the forward channels. Various elements were accurately placed in the front spectrum, and the mixes gave us those with good breadth and definition. The tracks broadened the music well without gimmicks. The surrounds added some crowd noise, general reinforcement and a few effects like pyrotechnics. These gave us a nice sense of the concert setting.
For Austin, audio quality seemed good but not exceptional. I thought that the material sounded just a little compressed. Highs were a little clipped and low-end failed to become as warm as I’d like. At no point did these observations threaten to really harm the audio, but I thought the music wasn’t as broad and dynamic as it could have been.
Still, the Austin show sounded more than acceptable and earned a “B” for audio. Similar thoughts greeted the mixes that accompanied the Rio concert. Really, I could find few differences to contrast the pair. Both soundfields and audio quality appeared very similar for the two concerts. I thought the Rio tracks featured crowd noise from the surrounds to a more significant degree, but then again, that concert boasted a much bigger audience. Anyway, while the audio of Bang never dazzled, it seemed more than satisfactory.
A mix of extras round out the discs. On DVD One, we find an Austin Mini-Documentary. In this five-minute and 52-second clip, we get a mix of behind the scenes clips. We see rehearsals of “Learning the Game” and “Bob Wills Is Still the King”. We also find some comments from Ronnie Wood and director Hamish Hamilton as they tell us a little about the challenges involved in this kind of DVD production. I don’t think we learn anything particularly interesting in that regard, but the rehearsals are cool to see.
We also get a rehearsal performance of “I Can’t Be Satisfied”. The track lasts four minutes, one second and shows the Stones’ take on that track. We also get some remarks from Charlie Watts, but the rehearsal footage is the main attraction here. I’d love to get hours of this stuff, as it’s really fun to see the band work through various tunes. “Satisfied” is somewhat special because it’s maybe the first time I’ve ever seen Mick Jagger play slide guitar – and he even takes the lead! This is a great little clip.
Moving to DVD Two, the sole extra comes from the 26-minute and 11-second Rio de Janeiro Documentary. It lets us see all the preparations involved with the giant show’s staging. We also view behind the scenes details like the manner in which the Stones take over a hotel, security and other aspects of what it takes to stage such an enormous event. The documentary provides a very fun examination of all the different elements. It’s a nice little piece.
Called “Rest of the World”, DVD Three includes tracks from three different shows. We get three numbers from the April 2 2006 concert at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena (17:14): “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “Rain Fall Down” and “Rough Justice”. We also get interview clips and glimpses of some Japanese press conferences. From the April 8 2006 concert at the China’s Shanghai Grand Stage (29:24), a five-song set appears: “Bitch”, “Midnight Rambler”, “Gimme Shelter”, “This Place Is Empty” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”. A few more interview snippets show up as well. Finally, we go to the February 21 2006 show at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina (34:06). Five more songs crop up here: “Worried About You”, “Happy”, “Miss You”, “Paint It Black” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. As you might expect, additional soundbites accompany this piece.
Some of the song choices seem odd – does anyone really want to hear “Satisfaction” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” again? However, the performances are mostly pretty good, and we find some interesting tracks as well. It’s good to hear more of some Bigger Bang tunes, and “Worried About You” is a nice addition.
All three shows offer solid renditions of the tracks – most of the time, at least. Keith botches the first line of “Happy” and it never quite recovers. The other tunes succeed much better, and during “Miss You”, Mick even briefly cracks up at one point. I’ve been to many a Stones concert over the years, and it’s exceedingly rare to see anything get to Jagger like that. (I do recall a September 2002 Philly show where a girl flashed him and got a look that showed he was genuinely impressed with what he saw. You’d think Mick would be blasé about boobies at this point, but I guess he can still be stunned.) Although I’m not wild about these little excerpt packages, the material here is good to see and hear.
DVD Three comes with three short featurettes and four duet performances. In terms of the former, we get clips that focus on guest performers Bonnie Raitt (3:37), Eddie Vedder (4:03), and Dave Matthews (2:59). Raitt discusses her history with the Stones and her turn on “Shine A Light”, while Mick adds some notes about reviving the tune. Vedder and Matthews provide more general thoughts about the Stones, though I like Dave’s impressions of what it’s like to be on stage with them. Raitt’s segment is the best here.
As for the duet performances, we find Raitt’s “Shine a Light” (4:17), Vedder’s “Wild Horses” (4:47) and Matthews’ “Let It Bleed” (5:11). We also discover another rendition of “Wild Horses”, this time with Chinese artist Cui Jian (5:17). Again, Raitt fares the best here, as she contributes to a solid rendition of “Light”. I love me some Pearl Jam, but Vedder’s “Horses” is pretty weak. Keith messes up his guitar-playing in a rather consistent and distracting manner, and Eddie’s in a totally different key; that ain’t harmony when he croons along with Mick.
As for Cui’s “Horses”, it’s even more of a train wreck, though I can’t blame the singer. It seems pretty clear that he doesn’t know the words and can’t speak English. This means it looks like he’s trying to sing phonetically, and it’s a mess. I don’t know if Cui would be better in his native language, but here he’s a disaster. Finally, Matthews gives us a decent take on “Bleed”. He doesn’t mesh particularly well with Mick, but he’s an improvement over Eddie. Despite their hit or miss nature, it’s still pretty cool to check out these unusual performances.
With that we shift to DVD Four and all its components. The big attraction is a one-hour, seven-minute and 15-second Salt of the Earth: A Bigger Bang Tour Documentary. This program mixes concert shots, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Richards, Watts, Jagger, Wood, Cui Jian, Super Bowl halftime director Don Mischer, “censor” Don Was, promoter Michael Cohl, and musician Chuck Leavell. The program starts with 2005 rehearsals in Toronto and progresses through the North American tour, playing the Super Bowl in early 2006, the big Rio show, and the band’s first trip to China. We then trek through Europe, stop in Argentina, and come back to North America.
“Salt” creates something of an odd piece, as it often feels more like a montage of various moments than a true documentary. A few particular shows dominate, and since we already hear about Shanghai and Rio elsewhere in this collection, those segments become less interesting. I’d have preferred a doc that gave us a better day-to-day feel for the tour and took us inside the band’s functioning. I’d have loved lots of rehearsal footage, as it’d be great to see the band work through the new show, but we don’t get much of that here.
Nonetheless, “Salt” proves entertaining. It includes more than a few cool moments such as an excerpt of their performance of “Con Le Mie Lacrime” – the Italian version of “As Tears Go By” – and some funny interview bits. I love Charlie’s reaction when someone asks him for his business card; Watts seems totally offended that someone would think he has a business card! Ultimately, “Salt” doesn’t excel, but it works fine for what it is.
The disc also presents four Featurettes. These include “If It Ain’t Got That Swing Featuring Charlie Watts” (9:24), “’Hurricane’ Featuring Keith Richards” (2:36), “Outlets of Emotion Featuring Ron Wood” (4:27) and “Busking Featuring Mick Jagger” (2:25). Charlie discusses his playing and also joins in on a jazzy “Miss You”. Keith tells us a little about a tune he pulled out of the closet after Hurricane Katrina, while Ronnie talks about his art. Mick finishes with some notes about playing guitar. All are interesting, but Charlie’s is easily the best. It’s great to hear him reflect on his work.
Finally, DVD Four includes two bonus songs. We locate “Get Up, Stand Up” (6:24) and “Mr, Pitiful” (3:33). The Marley cover is something of a mess, but the Otis Redding tune comes off much better. Both are nice additions in any case.
A short Booklet rounds out the set. This one doesn’t tell us much. If offers some concert photos and disc credits.
Make cracks about their advancing age if you’d like, but the Rolling Stones can still rock with the best of them. We get some signs of that in The Biggest Bang, a look at their 2005-07 tour. The performances aren’t always top-notch, but they usually work pretty well. We get generally good picture and audio along with some nice extras. The 2003 Four Flicks package surpassed this one, but Biggest Bang nonetheless belongs in the collection of all Stones fans.
Note: as I write this, one can purchase The Biggest Bang only at Best Buy. That may change at some point, but right now, it’s the way it works.