In another, more sensible world, Let’s Spend The Night Together might have been the last we saw of The Rolling Stones. A 1983 document of the band’s 1981 tour, capturing two stops—one at a stadium in Tempe, Arizona, the other at an arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey—it doesn’t capture the band at its peak. But think of the indignities a tasteful dissolution in the early ’80s might have spared everyone: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards endlessly bitching at each other in the press, the need to refer to any halfway decent Stones album as a “return to form,” the cover of Dirty Work. Besides, it was clearly time to bow out. The group had recently released the thoroughly enjoyable Tattoo You, but had to comb through nearly a decade of outtakes to put it together. And Jagger had only just started to get an I’d-rather-be-anywhere-but-here look in his eye.
Even so, Let’s Spend The Night Together would not have provided the most dignified exit for reasons that start with Jagger’s ready-for-the-’80s stage gear, which in Tempe includes tights, kneepads, a puffy teal jacket, and a hot pink tank top. (In New Jersey, he opted for a slightly more dignified football-jersey-and-gypsy-scarves combo.) Where he used to radiate effortless magnetism, he now looks kind of desperate strutting around while the band grinds on behind him. And apart from a few moments, the performance does seem like punch-clock work. How could it be otherwise when they’re forced to perform beneath a scoreboard that blinks “The Rolling Stones” and then Jagger’s name and nobody else’s, an “accident” that enraged Richards enough that he mentioned it almost 30 years later in his 2010 memoir?
The great Hal Ashby (Harold And Maude, Being There) directs, but doesn’t make his presence felt too often. In the midst of the personal and professional problems that plagued him after his '70s heyday, Ashby mostly finds a few angles, hopes for the best, then edits it together with all the artfulness of a televised sports broadcast. (Which is particularly distressing, given that he made his name as the best editor in Hollywood.) When he breaks from the performance, it’s even worse: Why cut mid-song to pre-show footage of Ron Wood having his makeup applied? If nothing else, it shows why Stop Making Sense felt like such a breakthrough the following year.
Still, there’s some majesty and accidental foreshadowing to the Tempe scenes, shot as day becomes dusk. The sun sets. The band plays on. They aren’t what they used to be, but it’s comforting to know they’re still around, making noise until the darkness swallows them.
Key features: (The disc can’t get) no special features.