The Rolling Stones: From the Vault - Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981) Review: A Welcome Trip Back

Relive the last classic Stones era in this 1981 concert film.
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Recently released from the Rolling Stones archives, this show took place on Keith Richards’ 38th birthday on Dec 18, 1981. The first pay-per-view concert ever, it captures the band during their prime, in their last U.S. tour until 1989’s Steel Wheels. Eagle Rock Entertainment’s 2 CD/DVD set comes with a booklet with a blow-by-blow description of the show and still photos from the performance. 

In this day of instant video streaming, the thought of waiting patiently by your analog TV, suffering through the same preview a half-dozen times before the show went live, seems like medieval torture. And the waiting was torture for those of us who lived through it! Hampton '81  begins with a glimpse of the band backstage before they go on, and a shot of a model painted with call letters of AOR radio stations playing the Stones’ music. (The Stones were still current rock in 1981; the classic rock format didn’t take hold til the early 1990s.)

The concert kicks off with the politically incorrect “Under My Thumb”, but most of the songs in the 2 ½ hour set consists of songs from Tattoo You, the Stones’ most recent release at the time, and tunes from the prior releases Emotional Rescue and Some Girls. Tattoo You was arguably the last classic Stones album; hardcore fans call it a tie between Tattoo You and Some Girls.

The band blazes through “Neighbors”,” Hang Fire”, “Waiting on a Friend”, “Black Limousine”, “Little T & A”, and “Start Me Up” from Tattoo You, “She’s So Cold” and “Let Me Go” from 1980’s Emotional Rescue and  “Miss You”, “Just My Imagination”, “Beast of Burden” , “Shattered” and “When the Whip Comes Down.” from‘1978’s Some Girls  There are no songs from early ‘70s offerings It’s Only Rock ‘N” Roll, Black and  Blue, Goats Head Soup and only the omnipresent “Tumblin Dice” from Exile on Main Street.  They do two covers - Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ "Going to a Go-Go" (which was released as a single and MTV video) and Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock".

In the late '70s and the early days of MTV, Stones concerts and album releases were a big deal, on a par with younger acts, like Bruce Springsteen or Queen. Radio stations and concert promoters pulled all the stops for months for a Stones appearance as it was one of the biggest -if not the biggest, concert of the year in most markets.  

The DVD picture is crystal clear, considering the original film’s been locked away since 1981. There are ample shots of Mick’s sprinting around the stage and interacting with Keith. There are a few shots of a bemused Charlie Watts on the drums, but if you blink, you’ll miss the Stone’s original bass player, Bill Wyman, who prefers to stay way, way in the background. The band is joined by a few long-time sidemen, pianist Ian Stewart, keyboardist Ian McLagan, and saxophonists Bobby Keys and Ernie Watts on several of the songs.

The Stones’ Hampton ’81 concert performance sticks to the basics. It’s just the band, no lotus stage or anatomical balloons like the 1975 L.A. Forum show (also a recent release from Eagle Rock Entertainment). It’s just the music - and Mick’s preening, of course, which was at its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s. The glam rock Mick of '72 and '75 disappeared by ’77, mascara and eye shadow replaced by a more “vacationing on the Rivera” causal look.

Mick struts round the stage in purple pants and jacket, later changing into football jersey/uniform type outfit for the last few songs. He leaves no doubt that he’s the greatest front man of all time, commanding the stage and racing back and forth to play the crowd on ramps set up on both sides of the stage. (Now that he’s 71, his preening isn’t quite so aerobically-oriented.) Mick rides a mechanical lift over the crowd while Keith and Ronnie trade licks during “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”   

The show’s most controversial moment - er split second - occurs when a dopey fan jumps onstage during the encore ("Satisfaction") and Keith whacks the hapless stage crasher with his guitar. It’s hard to see the action as balloons drop from the ceiling, obscuring it. After hitting the kid with his Fender, Keith springs back into action without missing a note.

When you don’t have time to watch the DVD, you can listen to the 2-CD set, which contains the full concert. The keyboards are a little low in the mix, but otherwise it’s a fine audio recording of the show.

Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981) is a welcome trip back to the last classic Stones era - before they truly became the elder statesmen of rock. What were you doing in 1981? If you were around, this DVD/CD set is a fun way to relive those times. For the younger set, it’s a good lesson in rock ‘n’ roll history. The release is available in SD Blu-ray, DVD/2CD, DVD/3LP, DVD, and digital formats.

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