Music Review: The Rolling Stones - From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum - Live in 1981 (DVD + 2CD)

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On December 18, 1981, The Rolling Stones made history with the first-ever “pay per view,” live music concert broadcast. The venue was Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum. It was the penultimate date of their U.S. tour that had begun in late September of that year. It was also Keith Richards’ 38th birthday. The Stones wouldn’t tour the U.S. again until their Steel Wheels trek in 1989.

Now, as part of the From the Vault archival release series that also includes L.A. Forum - Live in 1975, every moment of the broadcast is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD. Shot on standard definition video (obviously, given the broadcast date), the reason to invest in the Blu-ray is the lossless audio. That being said, my preferred format is the DVD/CD set that offers the best of both worlds: the full two-and-a-half hour concert, with a lossy but still-impressive DTS 5.1 surround mix (there’s also the option of Dolby Digital 5.1), plus the entire show spread over two CDs. I love the option of listening to this show as a live album (there’s also a DVD/triple-LP option for vinyl buffs).

As for the concert, it’s a very professional effort that ushers in the middle-aged period of the Stones career. The energy is still high, but it’s not quite as wild as the Stones of old. Still, it’s a heck of a rock and roll show, even if it’s ultimately not as essential as some of the earlier shows that have previously been granted a home video release. Opening with a terrific “Under My Thumb,” the set list is fairly eclectic for its first two thirds, before concluding with a parade of big hits. A few spirited covers turn up early on, including a herky-jerky “Twenty Flight Rock” and “Going to a Go-Go.” Saxophonist Ernie Watts blows a scorching solo on a version of The Temptations “Just My Imagination” (originally recorded for the Stones for Some Girls, released 1978).

Then-contemporary songs are interesting to hear simply because they offer a change of pace from the better-known material. More than half of their ’81 offering, Tattoo You, make strong appearances, including “Black Limousine,” “Little T&A” (enthusiastically led by Richards following a “Happy Birthday” sing-along), “Neighbours,” and the hits “Hang Fire,” “Waiting on a Friend,” and “Start Me Up.” Not much turns up from ‘80’s Emotional Rescue, just “She’s So Cold” and, interestingly, “Let Me Go.” With five Some Girls tracks (including the aforementioned Temptations cover), it’s worth remembering that the Stones were still very much rooted in playing their recent material. More than half the set list consists of tunes culled from their three latest albums.



The late, great sax man Bobby Keys (who passed on December 2 of this year) makes only a couple select appearances, turning in some great work on “Let it Bleed.” Face keyboardist Ian McLagen and Stones stalwart Ian Stewart share keyboard duties (McLagen passed the day after Keys). Mick Jagger plays a bit more guitar than usual, both electric and acoustic, perhaps to better pace his energy expenditure (he remains more rooted to one place while playing). Perhaps for the first time, a bit of going-through-the-motions, workmanlike aura creeps into the show. It’s a very even performance from start to finish, but notably sedate when compared to live footage from previous decades. Inevitable, yes, but still a worthwhile document in terms of tracking the band in their journey from the wild abandon of youth to the elder statesmen of rock.

The two CDs boasts excellent fidelity and offer a more portable way to experience the concert than always having to pop in a DVD. Eagle Rock Entertainment has included a booklet featuring new liner notes by music writer (and former airline business veteran) Richard Havers. From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum, along with the L.A. Forum set, make for a double-dose of Stones this holiday season.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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