By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The title hints at an "unplugged" set-up--acoustic guitars, no overdubs, live and in-person--but the only thing Keith Richards is unplugged from is a life-support machine. This is rock and roll that sounds as though it were recorded in a museum or an intensive-care unit--the last gasp of legends out to prove they're still relevant, they've aged gracefully if not gratefully, and there's still a beating heart and vital soul inside the rotting corpse. Need proof Wilco and the just-defunct Jayhawks and Son Volt are more viable Stones than the Stones now? Check out "Little Baby," on which Mick mistakes lazy for country, tired for the blues.
Avoiding the better-known hits ("Angie" is about as greatest-hits as it gets, rendered here as an acoustic ballad that's a bitchslap compared to the original's gutpunch), it's a collection of obscurities and covers. And they're rendered on acoustic instruments turned up so loud they're actually electric, casually thrown out there by ancient rockers trying to go the route of their old country-blues heroes, whose voices resounded with the creak of age and the power of experience. Hence, "Love in Vain." Hence, "Slippin' Away." Hence, "Little Baby" and the boogie-woogie piano. Hence, "Sweet Virginia" and the harmonica. Hence, Keith Richards, the microphone's greatest enemy. Hence, Mick Jagger, for whom a pose is the next best thing to emotion.
This is the Who at the end--a revue instead of a band, a gimmick instead of a hootenanny; unlike Dylan, who remained forever young by giving in but never giving up, the Stones have become so far removed from the place of origin they can never go home again--"Not Fade Away" 30 years after the fact sounds flaccid, dead. And the take on "Like a Rolling Stone" is nothing but advertisement masquerading as homage, and Jagger ought to sing "Like the Rolling Stones" just to keep it honest.
Kim Deal's second side-project-made-good is the Amps, which sounds a whole lot more like the Pixies than the Breeders: Her voice is distorted or buried or both much of the time, the songs are pop catchy but not catchy pop, the riffs fly past when they don't crawl beneath slightly out of tune and out of breath. In the end, then, it's unexpectedly Surfer Rosa all over again, especially "Full on Idle," which is either an amazing Black Francis impression or the final, indisputable proof she was the brains behind the operation.