I stand by my declaration that Billings is quickly becoming the live music capital of Montana, but in all fairness I should point out that the Rolling Stones are going to play in Missoula on Oct. 6. This is a big deal, no doubt about it, though perhaps the Missoulian, in its breaking-news online report, posted just minutes ago, might have gone a bit too far when it said: "We will have a full report on the concert in tomorrow's Missoulian, and an in-depth analysis of how Missoula landed this monumental concert in Thursday's Entertainer." When I think of "monumental" and "Rolling Stones" together, I see a Mount Rushmore carved with those weathered, battered faces. Can you imagine trying to carve Keith Richards' deeply creased face in solid stone?
The only time I saw the Stones, in 1972, I think, it wasn't monumental; it was disastrous. For starters, I had to give up my job to go. I was a junior in high school and my brother gave me a ticket for my birthday, just days before the show. None of the other lowlifes washing dishes with me at a Howard Johnson's in Minneapolis would take my shift, so I called the manager and told him I simply couldn't work that day. I can't remember if I quit or he fired me, but I heard he ended up washing dishes that day.
The concert was in the old Met Center in Bloomington, long since demolished to make way for the Mall of America, and the opening act was Billy Preston, who died this summer. Preston was every bit as good as we could have hoped, pumping the crowd up for what was then the undisputed top touring band in the world. And then came the Stones. They didn't waste any time. I think Jagger had already jumped off an 8-foot stack of speakers by the middle of the second song, and it was so loud that even up where I was sitting, seemingly two blocks away and a hundred feet off the floor of the arena, my ears were ringing.
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Then, somewhere in the middle of the third or fourth song, my nose and eyes started to itch something fierce. I was scratching my nose and massaging my eyes when I looked around ... and noticed that 20,000 other people were doing the same thing (not to my nose and ears, but to their own). This wasn't good. Suddenly the house lights came up, the music stopped and the Stones stood there, momentarily frozen like thieves caught in a spotlight. After a few moments, somebody --- it may have been Jagger himself --- announced that people were rioting outside and that some tear gas had gotten into the ventilation system. End of concert. The crowd immediately turned ugly, tossing chairs, screaming and surging toward the stage. Somebody even tossed some ordnance --- sounded like a cherry bomb --- on the arena floor, which reverberated throughout the cavernous building and sent up a big cloud of smoke.
So we all pushed and shoved and waded toward the exits, only to burst out into a parking lot swirling with kids running every which way and cops on horseback swinging nightsticks. The tear gas, which was faint inside, floated past in a thick mist outside. Somehow, we made it back to the car and got the heck out of there in one piece. There was no refund, but we didn't care. That was a rock 'n' roll concert to remember.
A couple of years later, my wife saw the Stones in rather a different setting. She'd gone over to Switzerland right after high school with her best friend, whose mother was Swiss, and they saw the Stones in Zurich. She said the Stones played their hearts out, as always, but the staid Swiss crowd just sat there, deathly silent, clapping politely after each song, as if they were listening to a chamber group. I'm guessing the Missoula concert will be livelier than Zurich but not quite as wild as Bloomington. At any rate, I can say I've seen the Stones, so I won't be tempted to catch them in Missoula.