The Marquee Club was The Rolling Stones‘ original home base during their ascent to superstardom. Much like The Cavern Club had harboured The Beatles‘ jump from local legends to pop successes, The Marquee was where The Stones were able to step outside the purview of London’s jazz and blues snobs and make their case as a legitimate pop group in the early 1960s.
By the time the band made it to the ’70s, the Marquee couldn’t contain the massive draw of The Stones. However, the band would occasionally make return appearances to the club throughout the years, one of which was at the end of their brief UK tour in March of 1971.
Despite the release of Sticky Fingers still being a month away, the band had incorporated a number of that albums’ songs into their repertoire, including ‘Dead Flowers’, ‘Bitch’, and ‘Brown Sugar’, the latter of which would be released as a single just a few weeks after the band’s performance at The Marquee. The intimate audience was able to experience one of The Stones’ most popular – and controversial – songs right before it went global.
Another controversial song included in the setlist was Let It Bleed‘s ‘Midnight Rambler’. Despite its focus on rape and murder, the song was a live favourite, with Mick Jagger getting into character as the deranged psychopath on stage. These histrionics would be amplified when the band hit their bigger stages, but you can see the impetus of the character study in clips of ‘Midnight Rambler’ from The Marquee.
Stretched out to nearly ten minutes, Jagger isn’t given a lot of room to manoeuvre. Instead, he prowls the cramped area he’s afforded and blows into his harmonica with fervour, adding a bluesy counterpoint to the alternating shuffle and straight-ahead rock that the rest of The Stones are building. Keith Richards takes the stinging lead slide on the studio recording, but Mick Taylor plays some furious lead lines of his own, trading licks with Jagger’s harmonica as the intensity gets more and more palpable.
The entire song is a sweaty, loose-limbed jaunt that careens with a haphazard drive, almost as if everyone involved is just hanging on for dear life as the track takes unpredictable twists and turns. It was the band’s ‘blues opera’, and they managed to wring every last bit of drama out of it during their performance here.