Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Live (1994)
Studio Line: Image Entertainment

The world's greatest rock and roll band continues to reach new heights--1994's phenomenally successful "Voodoo Lounge" tour was the highest grossing of all time. This groundbreaking concert, featuring guest appearances by Bo Diddley and Robert Cray, is a must-have for every fan's collection. Songs: Not Fade Away, Tumbling Dice, You Got Me Rocking, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Angie, Sweet Virginia, It's All Over Now, Stop Breaking Down, Who Do You Love, Miss You, Honky Tonk Women, The Worst, Sympathy for the Devil, Start Me Up, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, Brown Sugar, Jumpin' Jack Flash.

Director: David Mallet
Cast: The Rolling Stones
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English PCM Stereo; no subtitles; not closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; not rated; 94 minutes; $24.99; 5/6/98.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD | Music album - The Rolling Stones

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/C-/F

At one point in my life, I was a major fan of the Rolling Stones. I first discovered them for myself as a 14-year-old in 1981. I can still recall how badly I wanted to see them during their tour that year, but it wasn’t to be, so I waited for another opportunity.

And waited… and waited… until 1989, when the band finally hit the road again. For all intents and purposes, they’d broken up after 1986’s Dirty Work; nothing official was ever announced, but a de facto split had occurred. That made their return in 1989 for the “Steel Wheels” tour and album all the more sweet.

While I should have been massively excited to see the band, I wasn’t. For reasons unknown, my enthusiasm for the Stones had quelled significantly by this point. To be certain, I was still very fond of them, but I was in the middle of a massive Bowie jag at that time, and I lacked much passion for the Stones.

Ultimately, I saw the band three times on the tour, twice from excellent vantage points. I possessed a front row seat for their September 24th DC stadium show, and I also had a 12th row spot for the final performance of the American tour, a special arena date in Atlantic City in December. I enjoyed the concerts but found that they didn’t really do a lot for me.

When the Stones came back around in 1994 for their Voodoo Lounge album and tour, my attitude hadn’t really changed. I still liked the Stones but the thrill was gone. Normally when one of my faves hits the road, I plan to see multiple concerts and have no problem whatsoever traveling to different cities. That tendency wasn’t as strong in 1994 as it is today - I can afford these treks much more easily now - but nonetheless it definitely existed back then, and given my long-term affection for the Stones, I probably should have planned to see them many times.

However, with my interest at a relatively low ebb, I didn’t anticipate any form of multiple viewings. I planned to see them during their two DC shows and that was it. Since the band started their tour here, that left open the option to travel elsewhere for later concerts, but I assumed that wouldn’t happen.

We all know what occurs when one assumes, and this took place in 1994. Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved the “Voodoo Lounge” show. Much of the show still relied on the same old chestnuts they’d performed billions of times over the years, but I felt they downplayed these to a surprising degree. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” actually was deposed from its normal set ending or encore place and plopped in the nondescript spot as the sixth tune in the concert. I fully believe the Stones chose to do this for symbolic reasons; while unwilling to totally lose the song Mick Jagger long stated he’d hate to still be performing at an advanced age - a number that changed over the years but was passed long ago - they diminished its status in the set and sent a message that this show would be something different.

The Stones offered a much more significant roster of Voodoo songs than I expected. Normally they trot out a fairly token list from the new album, but in 1994, they played seven tunes from Voodoo. Since that was a strong record, I really loved this aspect of the show. The band also trotted out a series of excellent songs that hadn’t been heard for a while. We got “Monkey Man” from 1969’s Let It Bleed as well as “Rocks Off” and “All Down the Line”, the two best songs from 1972’s Exile On Main Street, arguably the Stones’ top album. Mix in some serious oddities like “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel” from 1976’s Black and Blue and we encountered a much more varied and unpredictable set than I ever anticipated would be possible.

I ate it up and immediately recaptured a lot of the passion for the Stones that I’d lost. Ultimately I went to see them five more times in 1994, and my interest continued into the future. During their extended Bridges to Babylon trek in 1997-98 - which eventually would transmutate into the No Security arena tour of 1999 - I saw them 15 times, and I’m sure I’ll knock off another double-digit run when they hit the road again.

On the DVD release of Voodoo Lounge, we find one of the 1994 dates I attended, a November 25 show from Miami. This concert was broadcast as a pay-per-view special, and the DVD partially replicates that roster. I have to say “partially” because it omits a slew of tunes. The Miami show was one of the three longest of the entire 1994-95 Voodoo Lounge tour; along with the two DC dates, it was one of the few nights they played a whopping 27 songs. (For the record, other setlists weren’t radically shorter, as they varied from 22 to 25 tunes, with 23 being the most common length. As such, the Miami and DC concerts still stand out from the crowd.)

Unfortunately, Lounge totally butchers the show. We find a mere 17 of the 27 songs performed. As such, it omits 10 full songs: “Live With Me” - performed with guest Sheryl Crow - as well as “Rocks Off”, “Sparks Will Fly”, “Beast of Burden”, “Heartbreaker”, “Dead Flowers”, “I Go Wild”, “Before They Make Me Run”, “Monkey Man”, and “Street Fighting Man”. Why were these dropped? I have no clue. They all appeared in the live pay-per-view special from which this DVD came, and there clearly was more than enough room to include more of them. Lounge originally came out as a videotape and a laserdisc, but even if the program’s producers wanted to stick with one LD and one 120-minute tape, there was still plenty of room for additional tracks; Lounge runs only 94 minutes, so it easily could have accommodated at last five more numbers.

Bizarrely, the Stones have never benefited from a full concert video release in the US. 1998’s otherwise exemplary Bridges to Babylon came close, but it still omitted four tracks. Unfortunately, the other releases more closely resembled Lounge. 1989’s “Steel Wheels” tour appeared in truncated form via The Stones Live at the Max, a -minute IMAX program that actually documented their 1990 “Urban Jungle” tour; that trek existed as an extension of “Wheels” and largely resembled it, though a few changes took place. In any case, Max left out many tunes and didn’t come close to a full concert.

Going back farther, Let’s Spend the Night Together covered 1981’s “Tattoo You” tour. A full theatrical release directed by Hal Ashby, Night packed in a lot of songs from different concerts - including outdoor stadium shows and indoor arena concerts - but didn’t fully approximate an entire performance. It came closer than Max or Lounge, but it still didn’t achieve its goal.

However, consumers could easily obtain full concerts from each of these tours as long as they had cable TV at the time. Starting with a December 1981 show from Hampton Virginia - a now-legendary performance since Keith whacked an onstage interloper in the head with his guitar - each tour has appeared as a cable pay-per-view special. Live and uninterrupted, these provided the best representations of each tour. Unfortunately, even though Lounge and Babylon emanated from those sources, they left out too much material to be regarded as definitive.

In the case of the “Lounge” tour, however, one could obtain a commercial video release of an entire show. Actually, “Lounge” received another US video in addition to the clips culled from the Miami pay-per-view. Early in the tour, they played Giants Stadium, and roughly two-thirds of the show appeared on a videotape. Available through their tour merchandise service alone, this product never appeared in stores. I don’t know how collectible it is, but it’s definitely an unusual piece; over my 20 years of concert-going, I can’t recall another instance in which the souvenir stands offered a video of the current tour. (Actually, if I recall correctly, some of the 1998 “Babylon” shows may have sold a video from the December 1997 pay-per-view, but I’m not positive about that.)

Thanks to our friends from Japan, one can actually obtain a full-length video from the “Lounge” tour. The Stones played there in February 1995, and a laserdisc nicely documented one of the concerts. An expensive item when initially released, I dropped $120 for it in the winter of 1995; I have no idea what it’d run you today, but I doubt it’d be easy to find, since it was always a somewhat rare item. If you still have an LD player, it’s worth the effort; the program looks and sounds good, and it’s unlikely we’ll get a full representation of the “Lounge” tour on DVD anytime soon, if ever.

Why would anyone bother since we already have a fine piece of work like the current Lounge DVD? (Sarcasm - last refuge of the bitter music fan.) To be fair, Lounge isn’t a bad piece of work for what it is, though its pay-per-view roots come through fairly clearly. Director David Mallet is a veteran of many similar programs; for example, he also helmed TV productions of Bowie’s Serious Moonlight, some U2 broadcasts, and a slew of others.

As such, he knows what he’s doing, but even his experience can’t overcome the restrictions imposed by a truly live broadcast. Had the pay-per-view gone out as a taped program, Mallet would have benefited from increased freedom, but live experiences of this sort necessarily suffer from “lowest common denominator” direction. To minimize gaffes, the choices remain fairly conservative. This means that Lounge would offer a decent representation of the concert, but it didn’t possess much flair or spark.

The awkward editing affected for the shortened video release didn’t help. Lounge often looked like it was cut by a stoned monkey with a pair of left-handed scissors. The program jumped from song to song badly and suffered from a general lack of coherence. Bands don’t just toss out songs in any old order; concerts are paced carefully and deliberately, and an alteration of that diminishes the impact. If done well, an edited version could still provide a reasonably good representation of the original performance, but that didn’t occur during Lounge; the cutting seemed random and haphazard, and it made the program much less compelling.

Videos can never fully replicate the live experience, and the problem becomes much more marked when one has attended the tour in question. Not coincidentally, my favorite concert videos come from shows I never saw; since I didn’t witness them in person, I can’t really know what the TV version lacks. Nonetheless, at their best, concert videos can give us a fairly solid representation of the material and remind us what makes live music so special.

Without question, Voodoo Lounge didn’t do so. In fact, it actually made the Stones seem like a dull band. The Miami show wasn’t one of the best I saw on the tour; the addition of guest stars like Bo Diddley and Robert Cray bogged it down to a degree, which is another reason I like the Japanese LD. Nonetheless, it was a generally solid show, and it worked a lot better than you’d imagine based on this DVD.

Voodoo Lounge simply falls flat. When seen via the full-length pay-per-view special, you can get some idea what a fine show the 1994 tour produced, but virtually all flavor of that outing disappears from this DVD. In its place we discover a muddled and poorly presented affair that rekindled none of the fervor I felt in 1994. The Stones and their fans deserve much better than this weak piece.

The DVD:

Voodoo Lounge appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not a great picture, overall the program provided satisfying visuals.

Sharpness generally appeared solid. Most of the show came across as accurate and distinct, and it seemed nicely defined for the most part. A few wider shots displayed modest softness, but these fuzzy elements were fairly rare and didn’t significantly affect the presentation. Some minor moiré effects occurred, but jagged edges and edge enhancement caused no noticeable concerns. In addition, the video source material seemed clean and fresh, as I detected no signs of any interference or artifacts.

Colors often offered some strong points. At times the lighting could appear somewhat runny, such as at the start of “You Got Me Rocking”, but in general the hues seemed reasonably concise and tight. In addition, they appeared fairly bold and vivid much of the time, especially via the outfits worn by the performers. In particular, the band sported some coats that boasted rich tones; Mick’s red outfit and Ronnie’s orange number looked particularly vibrant. Black levels came across as nicely deep and dense, and shadow detail worked acceptably well for the most part. At times some low-light situations became moderately thick, but they usually seemed reasonably easy to discern. Overall, Voodoo Lounge wasn’t a great visual experience, but it provided a fairly good program nonetheless.

Much less satisfying was the PCM stereo soundtrack of Voodoo Lounge. Overall, the imaging seemed good but not great. Instruments appeared in reasonably appropriate locations and spread across the spectrum fairly well. The entire package came together in a neat and cohesive manner and it appeared to be a fairly solid stereo presentation, but it didn’t provide a great deal of life or depth.

Nonetheless, the stereo imaging seemed fine. Where Lounge lost points related to the quality of the sound. Mick’s vocals appeared a bit brittle and edgy, and they lacked much presence. However, they stood out strongly when compared to some other elements, such as Charlie’s drums. His percussion failed to deliver any snap or punch and simply sounded feeble. Overall, the audio came across as rather muddy, and nothing delivered much definition. Highs appeared flat and drab, while bass was mushy and indistinct. For reasons unknown, the producers jacked up the crowd noise to very elevated levels, which created an unnecessary distraction. While not unlistenable, the audio to Voodoo Lounge lacked any positives, and it made the show less appealing.

Not surprisingly, Voodoo Lounge included no extras. Frankly, I felt like the DVD deserved an “F-“ for supplements; not only did it toss in nothing in addition to the program, but also it didn’t even feature the entire show! I wasn’t surprised at the lack of extras, but that didn’t make their absence any more tolerable.

As a whole, Voodoo Lounge was a tough pill to take for a Stones fan. The DVD provided a butchered version of a 1994 show and did so with little style, though the presentation seemed acceptably clear and adequately displayed the show. At least it did okay with what we saw, but the omission of large portions of the original concert really harmed this disc; it lacked the appropriate pace and tone accorded a full show and seemed like an awkward presentation. Picture quality appeared pretty good, but the sound was flat and muffled, and the package included absolutely no extras. If this show really interests you, try to find a copy of the pay-per-view tape, or splurge and get the Japanese laserdisc; the DVD of Voodoo Lounge is a shoddy product that doesn’t merit your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0937 Stars Number of Votes: 32
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