In 1969, the Rolling Stones played a concert in Hyde Park, London. In the summer of 2013, they played there a second time. This show forms the basis of the new concert documentary Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live.
To be sure, the world probably does not need another Rolling Stones documentary. After all, we’ve already had Gimme Shelter, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, Let’s Spend the Night Together, and Shine a Light (that last one released a mere five years ago). Perhaps wisely, Sweet Summer Sun doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It exists simply as a recording of the band’s triumphant return to the venue, where they delighted more than 100,000 enthusiastic fans.
The Stones tear through many of their biggest hits, beginning (appropriately) with “Start Me Up” and concluding with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” During a voiceover interview in the opening minutes of the film, guitarist Keith Richards says that every time he steps onstage and sees the audience, his only concern is that they “murder” the show. Sweet Summer Sun shows the band committing such murder. Despite the fact that they’ve been playing these songs for decades, they belt them out as though it’s the first time. There is a chemistry among the members, and because the cameras are often right there onstage, you can see how musically in tune with one another they are. This is doubtlessly a key reason for their longevity. In an age when our pop stars du jour lip sync at the MTV Video Music Awards and have their vocals polished though auto-tune, the Stones are honest-to-goodness, hardcore musicians who have built a distinctive sound and stage presence together. Even at their, ahem, advanced age, they still bring it full force.
Sweet Summer Sun shows that the Stones have chemistry with their fans, as well. During “Ruby Tuesday,” there is an oddly touching montage of fans proudly displaying their Rolling Stones t-shirts and/or tattoos. Lead singer Mick Jagger expertly incorporates the crowd into the performance, playfully exchanging chants of “hoo hoo” with them on the intro to “Sympathy for the Devil.” In other numbers, he uses his unique forms of gyration to pump them up and get them on their feet. They go wild with every new song, despite having likely heard them all thousands of times before. You don’t get that kind of reaction unless your music really means something.
Director Paul Dugdale gets his cameras in close, so we can see the joy on the Stones’ faces as they perform, while simultaneously admiring their musical craftsmanship. He also effectively captures the energy and excitement of the live show. Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live doesn’t try to explain the band or tell us anything we don’t already know about them. It just allows us to admire one of the world’s best rock-and-roll bands, rocking and rolling every bit as hard now as they did 44 years ago.