The Rolling Stones U.S. tour of 1981 will be familiar to a lot of people because it’s the one Hal Ashby documented in his concert film Let’s Spend the Night Together. Mick’s in his kneepads, neon, and cherry picker phase. Keith is off smack and looking pretty good. Stu’s behind the piano for his last time with the Stones. Tattoo You has just come out. The arenas are huge and the show is loooong. Ashby documented The Rolling Stones as they’d be from there on out. They were now crowd-pleasing pros far removed from the ragged marauders they were in their vital early years and even the punk posing of the much more recent Some Girls concerts.
But wait. Mick’s still affecting his Cockney stance and dropping politically incorrect (and stupid) asides about Turkish taxi drivers and fucking girls as cold as ice cream cones. The polished professionalism evaporates for a shambling run-through of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that sounds like it’s about to disintegrate at any moment. A guy charges at Mick during the final song of the set—the ever-predictable “Satisfaction”—and Keith unpredictably whips off his guitar and beats the hapless intruder. It’s one of the last shocking moments in a career of many.
These wild moments were reserved for a show Ashby shot on December 18th at Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum. Had he used that show instead of the other ones he used in Let’s Spend the Night Together, he would have had a much more exciting, much less rote movie on his hands. But you can now see all two-and-half hours of it on Eagle Vision’s new blu-ray Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981), the latest installment of the Stones’ ongoing “from the vault” closet cleaning. Look, this isn’t Gimme Shelter or anything, but it is surprising to see the Stones putting on such a supremely watchable and listenable show at a time after a lot of fans believe the fire had gone out of the band. This release was kind of misrepresented three decades ago when some of its audio was pulled for the lackluster live album Still Life and a couple of the songs Ashby shot, “Going to a Go-Go” and “Time Is on My Side”, went into heavy rotation on MTV. Those are not among the best performances in this set, though it is very nice to see the guys dipping back into their past after spending so much of the seventies pretending the only record they’d cut before “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was “Satisfaction”. They’re clearly keener to play more recent things like “Let Me Go”, “Shattered”, and “Neighbors”, which are among the best performances here.
Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981) presents the show with good sound, but the video quality is less impressive. Detail is minimal to the point that it almost looks shot on video (and for the record, some elements of the “Beast of Burden” performance must have been missing, because the movie suddenly looks like an ancient VHS tape for a few minutes). There are no extras aside from a booklet essay.
Get The Rolling Stones from the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981) on Amazon.com here: