Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 5, 2016)
Back in 1994-95, the Rolling Stones embarked on a massive world tour to support their new Voodoo Lounge album. Most of these shows played stadiums, and an abbreviated version of one of those concerts came via the Voodoo Lounge Live DVD.
In a twist, however, the Stones played a handful of 1995 dates at small venues in Amsterdam, Paris and London. These became the basis of an “unplugged” live album called Stripped.
Fast-forward 20 years and this endeavor receives a new video release entitled Totally Stripped. With performances from all three of the shows mentioned – as well as studio sessions - we find a 17-song setlist with tracks from various parts of the band’s career.
“Not Fade Away” dates all the way back to their 1964 debut, and “The Spider and the Fly” stems from 1965’s Out of Our Heads. 1968 delivers the single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, while 1969 provides the single “Honky Tonk Women” as well as Let It Bleed’s “Love In Vain”, “Let It Bleed” and “Gimme Shelter”.
From 1971’s Sticky Fingers, we hear “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses”, and 1972’s Exile on Main Street brings “Tumbling Dice” and “Shine a Light”. 1978’s Some Girls boasts “Faraway Eyes”.
The Stones play two songs from the then-current Voodoo Lounge: “I Go Wild” and “You Got Me Rockin’”. Finally, we find covers of Willie Dixon’s “Down in the Bottom”, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You”.
Though one might expect Totally Stripped to offer a straight concert compilation, it leans in the direction of “documentary” at times. That means we hear comments from Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood as well as producer Don Was, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Darryl Jones, engineer Ed Cherney, lighting director Dave Hill, set designer Mark Fisher and saxophonist Bobby Keys.
The first four performances come from studio sessions and not the stage. “Love In Vain”, “Spider”, “Wild Horses” and “Let It Bleed” are all “live in the studio” and not in front of a crowd. (Or they’re presented as “live in the studio” – I won’t claim no overdubs/re-recording occurred.) “Tumbling Dice” also shows a backstage “warm-up” version, and “I Can’t Get Next to You” comes from a rehearsal.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of the “unplugged” theme that blossomed in the early 90s. I like to rock, so quieter versions of songs don’t tend to appeal to me. I appreciated the original Stripped album mainly because it included versions of some semi-obscure songs, but I can’t say I loved the performances themselves.
20 years later and my attitude hasn’t really changed, though only so much “stripping” affects the songs. Plenty of them – “Gimme Shelter”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, etc. - sound very similar to the “plugged” versions you’d hear at a “regular” concert. For every song with an acoustic bent, we get others that rock.
Which is fine with me, though the format leaves me less than excited. As mentioned earlier, Totally Stripped leans more toward “documentary” than “concert video”, and that leads to some frustrations.
I don’t mind the interview segments, though I don’t know how much they add, as I’m not sure we learn a whole lot about the project. The participants throw out occasional thoughts but these fail to present much insight, and various “behind the scenes” shots add little as well. We find plenty of movements with fans that go nowhere and the whole thing starts to feel puffy and promotional rather than revealing and insightful.
This also means that we don’t get a lot of uninterrupted performances. Some songs – like “Gimme Shelter” – are just excerpts, and many others come with interview clips played over the music. That turns into an annoying choice.
I find myself especially bothered by the emphasis on non-concert elements because the band played so well in 1994-95. Mick sounded simply great, and though they could still be rough at times, the Stones put on mainly terrific performances that tour. I’ve seen the Stones dozens of times and 1994-95 remains my favorite expedition; they simply came together better on that tour than on the others I’ve viewed.
If you want full performances, you need to pursue an expensive deluxe Totally Stripped that includes all three of the small 1995 concerts. The “basic documentary” feels like a tease and a compromise. I enjoy parts of it but find myself frustrated by it in the end.