The bad news? The Rolling Stones aren't touring this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The good news? The band has begun rolling out classic shows at Stonesarchive.com, which offers soundboard recordings of full performances for $5 each. "They've always been out as bootlegs," says Mick Jagger. "We just decided to make whole-lot-better versions of them available." So why now? "We're probably doing it because we're not doing anything new at the moment," Keith Richards says with a laugh.
The band recently unearthed Brussels Affair, recorded at Belgium's Forest National arena during 1973's short Goats Head Soup tour. The Stones tear through "Dancing With Mr. D" with dark swagger; Mick Taylor's searing slide lights up an epic 13-minute "Midnight Rambler." Also available: December 1981's gig at Virginia's Hampton Coliseum (where they nailed new songs off Tattoo You and vintage cuts like "Twenty Flight Rock") and 1975's gig at the L. A. Forum during Ronnie Wood's first tour with the Stones. Richards says the archival recordings have a certain magic different from the band's official live releases. "It's a strange thing about [playing] when nobody's looking," he says. "There's no tension. We're playing just for the joy of it. I'm not under scrutiny, so to speak."
This story is from the April 26th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.