After more than 50 years as a band touring over the world, music legends The Rolling Stones finally made it to the Cuban capital for a free, open-air gig in 2016. More than 500,000 fans from Havana and beyond flocked to the venue to witness one of the band’s iconic performances as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts showed that despite their advanced years, both the spirit and the flesh are as willing as Dijon and as far from being weak as Hercules on calf day.
That incredible occasion was captured on film by director Paul Dugdale and released under the title Havana Moon later that year. Now, Rebel Vision and Flying Entertainment have teamed up to bring the movie to cinemas and venues all across the UK, using ultra HD on a gigantic screen, an eardrum-bursting sound system and live Cuban dancers to create an immersive concert experience. It’s one that Jagger himself hopes “will let thousands more fans be part of a historic moment”.
It’s certainly an unusual event and one that’s difficult to pigeonhole. Is it a gig? Film screening? Salsa party? It’s something of all three rolled together, since the night opens with a troupe of garishly dressed Cuban dancers swinging their hips every which way to welcome attendees to the Usher Hall. This preamble, although perhaps slightly too long for comfort, is effective in setting the scene and whetting the appetite for the extravaganza that’s about to come.
Once the screening starts and Jagger’s powerful vocals rip into Jumpin’ Jack Flash, there’s no similar doubts about the standard of the Stones’ performance. With a cumulative age of three centuries, it’s nothing short of absurd how well all four septuagenarians can still manipulate their instruments, their vocal chords and their money makers to create the ultimate in showman swagger. The Wee Review turned the ripe old age of 10 last year, but even we’re not sure our pre-teen dexterity would allow us to pull off such feats of sprightly wonder.
The set list itself is another treasure to cherish. While early crowd pleasers like It’s Only Rock and Roll, Paint it Black and Honk Tonk Women do their job in whipping Havana up into a frenzy, it’s the closing quintet of Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, Brown Sugar, You Can’t Always Get What You Want and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction that really ice the cake. The introduction of Sasha Allen on that first track and the use of the live Cuban dancers in the next two really add pizzazz to an already zesty experience, getting the audience as close to the real thing as is possible.
Elsewhere, the visuals are equally as impressive. The cinematography from Brett Turnbull is an excellent mix of frothy locals revelling in the novelty of seeing these world-famous rock stars in the flesh, and outstanding close-ups on Jagger and his famous moves, Richards and his goblin-like rascality, Woods and his wiry energy and Watts and his metronomic, machine-like technical ability. A better band you won’t see, and a better documentation of their performance will elude you too. Indeed, the roving camera angles and impossibly up-close-and-personal swoops mean that the film allows for a far more comprehensive visual experience than those in attendance, in some ways.
But then again, of course, it’s a far inferior one in so many others. Despite the immersive nature of the show, you still won’t feel the cool Havana heat on your skin, the slap of your neighbour’s sweat on your face, the thrill of the night rattle through your body as you savour the occasion. It might seem churlish to shave a star off for failing to replicate the real thing so completely, and it’s as incredible a performance from a band and as thrilling an experience as a film screening can be, but it’s not quite the full monty with regard to either. Still, if you can’t get what you want, you might just get what you need – and any Stones fan certainly needs some of Havana Moon in their life.