Lionsgate // 1983 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // October 23rd, 2010
Greatest hits live.
Let's Spend the Night Together captures the Rolling Stones in concert in 1981, just as they were making the transition from the funky, decadent, drugged-out '70s rock icons they had become into the slick, professional, much less challenging stadium act they are today. Touring behind Tattoo You, the smash hit album they released earlier that year, the Stones jettisoned the more experimental aspects of their '70s concerts-the R&B horn section, the soul superstar guests like Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston, their darker, murkier songs like "Heartbreaker" and "Fingerprint File"-and stripped down to a five-piece rock band with only minimal accompaniment. This might have been an interesting change, except that the Stones mistook being more simplified with being more simplistic. The band's '70s concerts might have been occasionally ragged and uneven but at their best they were thrilling: the sight of a talented band redefining itself into a sound that no one else could have come up with. By this tour, however, the Stones had become nothing more than pure entertainers, putting on a competent show that never varies or even peaks. It's not entirely without merit -- at least it's more lively than 2008's soporific Rolling Stones: Shine a Light -- but it's hardly representative of the Stones at their best.
Let's Spend the Night Together was filmed at two concerts: December 13 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, and November 5 at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Singer Mick Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood, bassist Bill Wyman, and drummer Charlie Watts are accompanied by keyboardists Ian Stewart and Ian MacLagan and sax players Ernie Watts (no relation to Charlie) and Bobby Keys. Here is the setlist:
"Under My Thumb"
"Let's Spend the Night Together"
"Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"
"Twenty Flight Rock"
"Let Me Go"
"Time Is On My Side"
"Beast of Burden"
"Waiting on a Friend"
"Going To a Go-Go"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"She's So Cold"
"All Down the Line"
"Let It Bleed"
"Start Me Up"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
A look at the setlist confirms some of the flaws with this concert. The cover of Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" is a peculiar choice that the band never tried before or since. The Stones have never really worked as a rockabilly act-their roots are strictly in blues and hard-R&B-and this stiff version proves that they should avoid the form as much as possible. The setlist is also randomly chosen and sequenced, jumbling '60s hits with newer songs and strenuously avoiding any of the band's '70s songs, apart from a handful of selections from Exile on Main Street (1972) andSome Girls (1978). These are generally short, undemanding songs that don't allow for jamming or improvisation, making them ideal for bigger and therefore less patient stadium crowds. It represents a disturbing sign of how eager the Stones are to pander to their newfound popularity, rather than to challenge their fans as they did in the '60s and '70s.
It's the band's performance, however, which is the real disappointment. This tour marks the point where the Stones gave up on exploring new styles and sounds onstage, preferring instead to play the hits proficiently but indifferently as fireworks, fancy stage backdrops, and balloons add artificial excitement. Jagger is definitely athletic, running around the stage with gusto, but he seems thoroughly uninvested in actually singing. Richards and Wood go through the motions, cranking out guitar lines with little energy or zeal. You know it's an especially lackluster performance when Bill Wyman, of all people, is the most enthusiastic and exciting musician onstage. That's not to say that the show is terrible; the band never really hits any lows and some of the lesser-known songs, such as "Let Me Go," "She's So Cold," and "Let It Bleed," actually come off quite well. It's just that after it's over, you'll be hard-pressed to really remember much about it, since the Stones rely more on spectacle and familiarity, rather than musical prowess, to get over.
The Stones are not in peak form, but director Hal Ashby isn't entirely blameless either. His stoned somnambulism may have made films like Harold And Maude and The Last Detail into beloved hippie classics, but it proves to be disastrous for a concert film. The sloppy editing means that some shots are held way too long and others are cut way too early, making it hard to really follow the band's performance. It also renders some crucial songs, especially "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Brown Sugar," into chopped-up mush. Ashby assembled a top-notch camera crew, including cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, but apparently didn't know exactly what to do with them, rendering their work incoherent. He also deserves special opprobrium for randomly inserting archival footage of war, famine, and death into the middle of "Time Is on My Side." No other song gets this treatment and this feeble attempt at social context comes out of nowhere and really should have stayed there. The snippets of backstage and behind-the-scenes footage also inserted throughout are at least mildly revealing (Jagger, during this period, seems to have a special antipathy towards Wood) but they're way too brief to be truly illuminating. Ashby's fans should note that this was filmed during the director's long and painful personal decline; reportedly, his attempts to party hard with the Stones during the Tempe show landed him in the hospital for several days. Still, it's arguable that even under perfect circumstances, he wasn't the best choice to direct this film.
As for the timing of this DVD reissue, it's obvious that Lionsgate is rushing this out to capitalize on the DVD release of Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, a far superior concert movie filmed during the Stones' '70s prime. At least the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is sharp and pristine, showing off the band and all of their fancy stadium accoutrements beautifully. The Dolby stereo mix, on the other hand, is not great. It presents the music adequately, but it isn't very loud and at times can seem rather muddy and cluttered. Why Lionsgate didn't take the time for a 5.1 surround mix is inexplicable, since there's really not much reason to put out any concert film (and especially this one, which is designed as a colossal extravaganza) if not for a surround mix. The DVD liner notes are particularly shoddy, botching the order of songs and promising special features (a trailer and stills gallery) that are nowhere to be found on the disc.
All of which means that Let's Spend the Night Together isn't an essential purchase for most viewers. Stones completists will want this, of course, as it has a few flashes of rock & roll energy here and there and the new transfer is sharp enough to warrant replacing their old VHS copies. Unless you're really fascinated by meaningless stadium-rock trappings, however, feel free to pass this by and pick up The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter or Ladies And Gentlemen instead, to see what the Stones can do when they truly deliver the goods in concert.
Guilty of capturing the Rolling Stones as showbiz entertainers rather than the world's greatest rock & roll band.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG