Rolling Stones: The Steel Wheels Concert presents the most up-to-the-minute version available of the aging bad boys of rock, cranking out their hits on their recently concluded world tour. Although Steel Wheels itself was just a pretty good Stones album, the concert tour was downright heroic, setting out to include the band’s best-known songs and to present them with renewed spirit and vigor.
As this two-hour program reveals, Mick Jagger is nothing if not vigorous: Looking lean and sculpted in a series of tight outfits, he wiggles and squawks with rock-legend aplomb, doing a bit of campy mime here, a bit of modified voguing there. Jagger’s leers and jiggles contrast neatly with Keith Richards’ corpse-with-a-will-to-live stage demeanor; looking freshly embalmed, Richards tears off some elegantly simple guitar solos.
From the opening number, ”Start Me Up,” through songs as various as ”Ruby Tuesday,” ”Sympathy for the Devil,” ”Honky Tonk Women,” and ”2,000 Light Years,” the Stones seem committed to making their music work as vital rock in the ’90s. Their chief miscalculation is a drawn-out version of ”(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that ends up sounding like a Broadway show tune.
The Steel Wheels Concert suffers from the usual rock-concert-on-TV flaw: The big, overstated gestures that Jagger must make to be seen by fans sitting in the back rows of a stadium can’t help but seem silly and exaggerated when viewed in the tight close-ups of a TV camera.
But director Louis J. Horvitz has done everything right: Except for an agreeably campy three-song interlude shot in 3-D (no glasses required), he doesn’t bother with fancy camera work, and there are no distracting shots of the cheering audience. Horvitz just records the performances, with clear images and excellent, crisp sound.
The Stones may no longer have the pop-cultural impact they once had, but their show is strong, confident, and youthfully impudent.