This live 1969 Madison Square Garden set was released at the band's peak, following Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, preceding Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, and recorded a week before the disaster at Altamont. Given that context — a time when they were attheir most "dangerous" — it's surprising how ragged it all sounds now, Jagger's voice sometimes shaky, his back-up moaning on Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" pathetic, the lauded proto-jam-band boogie of "Midnight Rambler" overblown, the band's execution "loose."
As you look back, what lingers is a live ambiance that matches the rawness of the performance: those overlapping introductions to "the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world!", the press of crowd noise on the stage sound (" 'Paint It Black,' you devils!"), Jagger's comments (on his trousers; "Charlie sounds good tonight"). In other words, the "liveness" of it all — which is a different beast from the awesome authority of those four studio LPs. So we get the "spontaneity" of flipped lyrics ("the blue light was my baby," you devil) and on-the-spot adjustments (Jagger's opening on "Stray Cat Blues").
What still holds up is the low-end garage-rock throb of Mick Taylor and Keith's guitars with bassist Bill Wyman, and the idiosyncratic bite of Jagger's diction. But even Mick's attempts to offend (like changing the age of that stray cat from 15 to 13) make this special four-disc 40th-anniversary "deluxe" edition (with additional tracks from the Stones, live sets from B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner, and, best of all, a DVD short film from the tour by the Maysles brothers) more historic document (and collectible!) than satisfying listen.