Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 16, 2015)
When I last checked out the Rolling Stones live, it came via a concert from the middle of their 1989-90 “reunion tour”. As I mentioned in that review, the 1989-90 shows followed the band’s longest-ever break from the road.
With Live at Leeds 1982, we get to see the Stones’ final concert from the 1981-82 tour, a show that looked to fans like it might be their last performance ever. The end of the trek to promote 1981’s Tattoo You, we go to an outdoor festival setting, as the Stones played to about 80,000 people at Roundhay Park in Leeds, England.
1981’s Tattoo You accounts for five of the show’s 24 tracks: “Neighbours”, “Black Limousine”, “Hang Fire”, “Little T&A” and “Start Me Up”. Its predecessor – 1980’s Emotional Rescue - contributes another two numbers with “She’s So Cold” and “Let Me Go”, while 1978’s Some Girls brings us “When the Whip Comes Down”, “Shattered”, “Just My Imagination”, “Beast of Burden” and “Miss You”.
1973’s Goat’s Head Soup delivers “Angie”. From 1972’s Exile on Main Street, we find “Tumbling Dice”, and 1971’s Sticky Fingers delivers “Brown Sugar”.
Heading back to the Sixties, 1969’s Let It Bleed presents “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. 1969 also boasts the single “Honky Tonk Women”, and 1968 gets represented by another 45: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. 1967’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together” was also a single, though it appeared on the US version of Between the Buttons as well.
“Under My Thumb” comes from 1966’s Aftermath, and 1965’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was another single that popped up on the US edition of Out of Our Heads. “Time Is On My Side” appeared on 1964’s 12X5, and the final two songs represent covers never released by the Stones prior to their live 1981 renditions: the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go” and Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock”.
If you compare that setlist to the songs the Stones performed on the Blu-ray for their December 1981 Hampton Coliseum concert, you’ll note that they’re nearly identical. Leeds adds “Angie” and drops “Let It Bleed” and “Waiting on a Friend”. Otherwise, they contain all the same tunes – and performed in exactly the same spots.
This means two things. First, if you’d like to read my general thoughts on the 1981-82 tour and the “status of the Stones” in that era, please go to the Hampton review. I don’t think it makes sense for me to regurgitate those same opinions for a concert that took place only seven months after Hampton.
Second, fans may wonder what they’ll get from Leeds that they don’t already have from Hampton. With only one song not found on the Hampton Blu-ray, obviously the set list doesn’t offer added appeal. If Leeds delivered a bunch of tunes not heard in Hampton, then it’d be easy to see why fans would want to own both, but with nearly-identical sets, the question becomes more prominent.
Probably the most obvious difference between the two shows involves their settings. Hampton took place in an indoor arena in front of a relatively small audience; the Hampton Coliseum only holds about 13,000 for concerts, which is a semi-dinky gathering for the Stones. By contrast, Roundhay Park opened up to more than six times that many fans.
This alters the concert presentation in some ways, mainly because it gives vocalist Mick Jagger a bigger playground on which to romp. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on one’s point of view, I suppose. As I mentioned when I discussed the 1990 Tokyo Dome concert, an enormous stage means that various bandmembers may not connect interpersonally as much as usual.
This becomes especially true for Jagger, as he uses the breadth of the setting more than the others. Even with wireless instruments, the musicians tend to congregate in a fairly small spot most of the time. They still move around in Roundhay Park more than they did on the relatively small Hampton stage, but they don’t spread their wings a lot.
Compared to the excursions he’d take in Tokyo 1990 and other later tours, I suppose Jagger doesn’t go afield all that much, but he still leaves the center stage a fair amount, and that means he doesn’t tend to connect to his bandmates as much as he did in Hampton. Granted, Mick’s always been off on his own much of the time, but the huge Leeds setting makes this literal and figurative distance even more apparent.
In terms of performance quality, I liked the Hampton Blu-ray more than I’d expected. As I noted in that review, other documents from 1981 – primarily the concert film Let’s Spend the Night Together and the album Still Life - didn’t show the band in a very good light. However, Hampton sounded quite strong and represented the band better than anticipated.
Unfortunately, Leeds brings us Mick in “barked vocals” mode. Every once in a while, he actually kinda sorta sings something, but mostly, he shouts the vocals in a vaguely melodious manner. I’ve heard worse singing from Jagger, but this tendency certainly doesn’t show him in the best light. In addition, when he speaks, he also adopts an exaggerated version of his natural accent that becomes comical and bizarre.
Which is too bad, as the rest of the band sounds good. As I’ve noted in other reviews, the Stones can be sloppy, usually in terms of guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Both acquit themselves well here, however, and the rhythm section of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman perform ably as usual. I wouldn’t call this a band on fire, but musically, Leeds proves better than usual for the Stones – except for Mick’s vocals.
I can live with those musical ups and downs, but the poor direction of Leeds creates the Blu-ray’s biggest drawback. Leeds doesn’t credit a director because it consists of footage shot for video screens used at the venue.
That means we get consistently bad photographic choices during Leeds. Nearly the entire concert consists of close-ups – fairly severe close-ups, at that, as the shots tend to stick with heads and little else. Images from the waist up appear infrequently, and actual wide shots manifest themselves even less often.
Because of this, we get little feel for the performance. There’s no sense of movement or interaction, as even two-shots are rare. Every once in a while, we’ll see keyboardists Ian Stewart and Chuck Leavell together, and we also find the occasional glimpse of saxophonists Bobby Keys and Gene Barge in the same frame.
I’m glad Leeds eschews rapid-fire editing, but the boring nature of the shots becomes a major drawback. I never got a feel for the concert, as the imagery gives us no concept of what the show would’ve been like. The occasional close-up is fine, but we need wider shots to get the right impression of the stage and band movement.
Without that, Leeds almost feels like a collection of still photos. Dear God, how many shots of Wyman’s emotionless face can one man take?
With a better visual presentation, Leeds could’ve been a good program. Even with Jagger’s less than stellar vocals, the band sounds solid, but the program presents the concert in such a dull, stagnant manner that it becomes a chore to watch. I never thought I’d be so bored by a Stones concert, but the relentless parade of close-ups makes Leeds a sluggish visual experience.