The Rolling Stones, “Waiting On A Friend (Hampton Coliseum, 1981)”: One Track Mind

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Part of Mick Jagger’s mystery is his flippant manner with a lyric, the way he can make a come on seem like both a salacious invitation and a dangerous trick. It’s what set the Rolling Stones’ brand of blues rock apart from the average mimicry that dominated their nascent 1960s scene.

He was too full of vim, too full of vigor, too full of himself to give in to the straight-forward approach. Jagger felt risky, untamed, and that uncertainty was something that the average British blues album back then desperately lacked. Instead, they more often felt like curios, a too-careful tribute missing something essential. This helped launch the Rolling Stones, but it couldn’t necessarily sustain them as they aged. For Jagger and Co., the challenge was in maturing into something else, something with real gravity.

Tracks like “Waiting on a Friend,” originally found on 1981’s Tattoo You, proved to be important sign posts along the way. As he searched for emotional depth, the kind of connection that might last, Jagger began to reveal previously unimagined places in his heart. (Later, Jagger would lay himself shockingly bare on “Out of Tears” from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge and, in a triumph of measured passion, “Almost Hear You Sigh” from 1989’s Steel Wheels.) Tattoo You was on a sizzling nine-week ride atop the U.S. charts when the Rolling Stones gathered at Hampton Coliseum for a concert released this week as part of the From the Vault film series via Eagle Rock. In keeping, “Waiting on a Friend” was one of six featured Tattoo You songs (including, of course, the deathless “Start Me Up”), but perhaps the most interesting for those keen to observe Mick Jagger’s evolving persona.

Working a stage, after all, is its own challenge — especially on one this breadth. The temptation, especially for someone with a personality as similarly outsized as Jagger’s, is to play up to the rafters. And Jagger does that, but it’s not all he does. In fact, over the course of this fascinating character study, he inhabits the entire range of his stage personas. “Waiting on a Friend” begins with Jagger in country-honk mode, recalling the twang of 1971’s “Dead Flowers.” He then shifts to a dismissive bray, his default, for the rest of the song’s first half.

It seems, midway through this six-minute examination, that Bobby Keys’ sax has more to say emotionally than does a neon-dressed Jagger. Then, something happens. After Keith Richards gamely tangles for a time with Keys, working against and with the smooth river-bed formed by Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, Jagger joins the lyric again. He quickly reinhabits, and then discards, both the bray and then the honk before suddenly barking out the title line with a raw authority. Once, twice. And then he repeats it more confidentially. Something has changed; Jagger seems suddenly engaged — and the song takes on a turgid urgency. He continues on in that way, in the moment, revealing something, giving a little piece away — and the rest of the Rolling Stones respond with a tough-minded conclusion.

Of course, in what seems like only moments later, Jagger is back to racing from one end of the Hampton Coliseum floorboards to the next, rooster crowing through “She’s So Cold” and “Miss You.” Nothing wrong with that, of course. But for a moment, we see something else on From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum – Live In 1981. We see a part of Mick Jagger we were only then just getting to know. It’s a remarkable performance.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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