Rolling Stones – Hampton Coliseum 1981

Posted on November 30, 2014

By Roy Trakin. 

The Rolling Stones – From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981) DVD – (Eaglevision/ UMG)

I’ve always insisted that the 1969 and ’73 Stones U.S. tours were when they were at their performing peak, but this one-time closed circuit pay-per-view special, co-directed by the late Hal Ashby, who filmed Let’s Spend the Night Together earlier during this same tour, has me reconsidering. The two-hour-plus Blu-Ray/DVD reissue captures the band at the very end of its 1981 50-city tour – the first-ever with corporate sponsorship from Jovan – playing a relatively small-sized indoor arena after performing largely in outdoor stadiums.

This is the start of Mick Jagger’s exaggerated, play-to-the-rafters calisthenics, tirelessly running around the arena (and at one point, into the audience) on the stages extended into the far reaches of the house. Ever the professional, he dutifully runs down and thanks every city that is carrying the telecast and FM simulcast. With Tattoo You, their then-current album, spending eight weeks at #1 on the U.S. charts, the Stones had arguably never been more commercially popular, but at heart they remained true to what brought them there, with a blues-based R&B approach accentuated even more by the presence of longtime mate Ian Stewart (for his last-ever Stones tour; he’d be dead four years later) and Ian McLagan , the ex-Small Faces bandmate of Wood, on keyboards, with Ernie Watts and Bobby Keys on sax.

There’s a ferocity to the playing – especially on newish numbers like “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Shattered,” “Black Limousine,” “She’s So Cold,” “Hang Fire” and the then-smash “Start Me Up” – that shows the effect of punk, not to mention Keith’s torn T-shirt and Mick’s array of glam outfits, changing from loose-fitting mauve suit to NFL football jersey and leotards, then shirtless, for the finale. The outfits are all pretty much fashion disasters, with Bill Wyman, who is shown playing a spirited ping-pong match with the late promoter Bill Graham in the dressing room before the concert, moving barely an inch despite a blue track suit, and a balding Charlie Watts, as breathtakingly brilliant as ever, wearing a sleeveless, boat-necked T-shirt as if out for a day at the beach.

Richards and Ronnie Wood are at their peak trading licks, the latter shining on bottleneck for “Let It Bleed,” while Keith grins ear-to-ear cranking out one indelible riff after the next on a set-closing run of “Tumbling Dice” (in which Mick rolls across the floor, literally acting out the title), “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Brown Sugar,” “Start Me Up,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” For the finale, with balloons falling around them, a stage interloper runs toward Mick and is waylaid by Keith, who wields his guitar like an axe and chases the kid off without missing a lick. “The damn thing stayed in tune,” he marvelled. “And this is the greatest advertisement for Fender that I can give you.”

What struck me about this particular performance is that the real high points were not what you’d expect, with “Just My Imagination” and the disco-inflected “Miss You,” in particular, turned into extended, feverish jams that left band and crowd alike drenched in hard-earned sweat. And, to top it all off, it was Keith’s 38th birthday.

Hard to believe 33 years have passed since then, because even then the guys were looking a little worn around the edges, though you gotta say, seeing Jagger run rings around the arena back then, it’d be impossible to predict he’d be doing the same thing more than three decades later. God bless the Rolling Stones.

About Brian Wise