Album Reviews: Rolling Stones - Bridges to Bremen, Plus Grateful Dead, Procol Harum

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The Rolling Stones have been mining their extensive vaults consistently of late, most recently to unearth such gems as an expanded version of Rock & Roll Circus and 50th anniversary editions of Beggars Banquet and Their Satanic Majesties Request. Now comes Bridges to Bremen, which delivers a 1998 concert from Bremen, Germany. The gig took place near the end of a four-continent, 97-show tour that found the group performing for four and a half million fans.

Bridges to Bremen contains the entire 22-song concert on two CDs as well as on a Blu-ray; the latter also features four bonus performances, including “Under My Thumb” and “Let It Bleed,” from a contemporaneous Chicago gig.

Since the tour was in support of the group’s Bridges to Babylon album, a top-five hit from the previous year, it’s not surprising that the Bremen show incorporates five of that LP’s 13 songs. Babylon will never rank with the Stones’ best albums, but it is consistently solid, and some of its best material is here, including “Flip the Switch,” Anybody Seen My Baby?,” “Saint of Me,” “Out of Control,” and perhaps most notably, “Thief in the Night,” with Keith Richards on lead vocal. The bulk of the program, though, leans heavily on 60s and 70s classics that need no introduction, including the show-opening “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” plus “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Paint It Black,” “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It),” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” 

Though audio and video concert versions of most if not all of these numbers are readily available on earlier releases, Mick Jagger is at the top of his stage-prancing form throughout, and the rest of the band deliver the goods as well. Moreover, there are a few tracks that distinguish this set: a fine reading of Black and Blue's atmospheric “Memory Motel,” one of the Stones’ best and least-often-performed ballads; and a 16-minute version of “Miss You” that showcases jaw-dropping sax work by the late Bobby Keys. (The cover of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" is excellent too, though it's quite similar to the one on 1995's Stripped.)

The remixed, remastered audio (presented with a DTS-HD Master option) is excellent, as is the video, which has been restored from original masters. The picture is standard definition, not widescreen, which means you’ll see black bars on both sides of the video. But you’ll likely forget all about them once you get pulled into this music.

MORE FROM THE VAULTS

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The Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. The Grateful Dead have never exactly wooed mainstream listeners: it took more than two decades for them to score their first—and last—bona fide hit single (“Touch of Grey”); and in their early years, when other West Coast groups like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and the Byrds were regularly climbing the charts, the Dead thumbed their noses at commercialism, preferring to experiment with feedback, extended jams, and surreal, acid-influenced lyrics. 

Their third LP, Aoxomoxoa, was among their most adventurous of the era. Fueled by LSD and the addition of lyricist Robert Hunter, it was among the first albums to embrace 16-track technology. Like its predecessors, it didn’t sell all that well—it took nearly two decades to go gold—but it has aged nicely and remains notable for such concert favorites as “St. Stephen” and “China Cat Sunflower.”

This 50th anniversary edition (with a 3D rendering of artist Rick Griffin’s psychedelic cover image) offers new reasons to pick up Aoxomoxoa, starting with its inclusion of remastered versions of both the album’s original 1969 mix and the band’s 1971 remix. I mostly prefer the latter but the radically different former—most of which has in recent years been available just on vinyl—is well worth a listen: it uses some different vocal takes and features all sorts of sonic touches that were wiped from version two. The other carrot here—and it’s a pretty big one for fans of the early Dead—is an entire disc of performances from January 24-26, 1969 gigs at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom. (They’re billed here as “the first live concerts in music history to be recorded to 16-track tape.) Among the highlights on that program are rousing versions of Anthem of the Sun’s “New Potato Caboose,” “Alligator,” and “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks),” which together clock in at 31 minutes. 

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Procol Harum, Broken Barricades: Expanded Edition. Matthew Fisher, whose organ was a key element in the classic “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” left Procol Harum before the group recorded their fifth album, Broken Barricades, which appeared in 1971. But as the LP demonstrates, the outfit remained solid (at least until the following year, when Robin Trower also headed for the exits). Terrific guitar work characterizes numbers like “Simple Sister” and “Playmate of the Mouth,” which rock harder than many of the band’s earlier efforts; and while extended drum solos like B.J. Wilson’s on “Power Failure” now seem a bit anachronistic, that number easily packs enough punch to belie its title. 

There’s even more to like on this new three-CD edition, which adds extensive liner notes and 36 bonus tracks (all but four of them previously unreleased) to remastered versions of the 1971 album’s eight numbers. The first disc’s bonus—raw and early renditions of all of the original album’s songs—will probably appeal mostly just to the group’s most rabid fans; but anyone who enjoys Procol Harum will want to hear discs two and three, which feature live 1971 performances on New York’s WPLJ-FM and the BBC’s Radio One, and at a Stockholm, Sweden concert. In addition to material drawn from Broken Barricades, these tracks include earlier triumphs, such as “Repent Walpurgis” from their eponymous debut; Shine On Brightly’s title cut, “Magadelene (My Regal Zonophone),” and “In the Autumn of My Madness”; and the anthemic title cut from A Salty Dog.

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches…

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