It’s December 05, 1981, and the Rolling Stones are playing at the Superdome in New Orleans. But I am sitting at home, in my teenaged bedroom, pouting. The ticket I once held in my hand now belonged to someone else and I was missing one of the greatest bands on the planet. Fast forward thirty-three years and now playing on my DVD is Live in 1981, Hampton Coliseum, a new release from the Rolling Stones: From The Vault series, allowing me the chance to experience a show from the tour I had missed. In fact, Eagle Rock Entertainment has released two shows in this series, the other being Live In 1975, LA Forum, which showcase two different time periods in the Rolling Stones history.
Watching the concert films back-to-back, their differences are quite noticeable in several different ways. The 1975 concert is bathed in lollipop colors with Mick Jagger being the main focal point of the camera’s eye. While he leaps and wiggles on a lotus-shaped stage, Keith Richards simply stands back in his black leather pants, oozing with rock & roll coolness, not too concerned about the shenanigans Jagger has going on up front. Guitar player Ron Wood is the new kid on the block and is the only one actually looking as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, having fun, letting loose on his solos. For the 1981 show, things have changed and there is a noticeable all-around freedom of spirit onstage. The limelight has spread to cover Richards equally to his fellow Glimmer Twin and this makes for a more visually enjoyable experience of the whole band. The lights are less cheesy seventies, the staging has expanded to cover the entire arena, Jagger doesn’t seem as clumsy holding a guitar and piano player Ian Stewart is actually given some decent camera shots; not hidden in the shadows like on the 1975 tape.
What remains the same is the quality of the visuals themselves, having been restored by Bob Clearmountain. No grain, no blurring, no sound defects. It helped that the latter show was recorded for a pay-per-view, the first ever of it’s kind, and was also the next-to-last show of a tour that started in late September in support of a spirited new album called Tattoo You. All these factors probably gave the band an extra oomph for the Virginia show. But it is the nature of this particular beast, this band of bad boy Brits, to come alive when people are watching them.
Both DVDs also come with nifty little booklets featuring photos and information about the tours. For example, the 1975 show at the Forum was actually the band’s fourth concert in five nights at the venue, showing just how popular the Stones were at that time. Dubbed the Tour Of The Americas, they played forty-five shows in twenty-six cities, their sixth American tour since starting the band. The 1981 tour ended up visiting twenty-eight cities, playing to 2.2 million people.
The setlists are both uniquely different, giving fans a variety of music from two separate decades; otherwise, this could very well have ended up being the same songs performed simply at different points in their career. But the popcorn for the fan is definitely the song selections. From 1975, you get gems like Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” “Heartbreaker,” Jagger in pied piper mode, leading people around the stage during “Sympathy For The Devil,” a fabulous Billy Preston taking over the lead mic on “That’s Life” and “Outa-Space,” Wood playing slide on “All Down The Line,” Richards a little off on “Happy,” and some delicious Richards/Wood guitar moments during “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” If there were more angles than just on Jagger and from Charlie Watts’ back, I would like this one better than I do. But it’s too limiting in that respect.
Live In 1981 has the best moment out of them both, when a fan rushes onto the stage and Richards simply takes his guitar and swings it at the man’s head and then goes back to playing “Satisfaction.” “Security was a bit slow and I saw some guy heading straight for Mick,” Richards is quoted in the booklet. “I do have a weapon in my hands. The damn thing stayed in tune and this is the greatest advertisement for Fender that I can give you.” The second best moment also comes on this DVD and that’s at the beginning when you see the band puttering around backstage before going on: promoter Bill Graham is playing ping pong with Wood, Jagger is warming up, Bill Wyman is joking with the various kids, Richards is hugging his son Marlon. The music has a high focus on tunes from Tattoo You: “Start Me Up,” “Hang Fire,” Richards crackle-voicing through “Little T&A,” “Neighbours,” “Black Limousine” and a “Waiting On A Friend” where Jagger cuts his eyes at Richards and Richards in turn gives him a playful kick in the rear when the song finishes. On Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock,” you get some great shots of Stewart’s piano playing hands, as he shares keys duties with Ian McLagan.
Again, it is the overall atmosphere of fun, of playfulness – Richards seen blowing kisses to someone in the crowd, Jagger pulling Wyman to the front of the stage into the spotlight, and the frontman egging the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to Richards – which make Live In 1981 the best entertainment for the buck and a delicious treat bag full of goodies.