or The night I thought I’d end up with a hunting knife in my belly
OK, before I tell the story behind that subtitle, check out the ticket price! Ten bucks to see the Stones. Tax included. No TicketMaster or venue fees. What a freakin’ deal!!!
Former Wailer Peter Tosh opened, supporting his Legalize It album. Most likely a decent set, but the only thing I remember all these years later is the size of the joint the band fired up toward the end. Looking like a medium-sized cigar, I imagine it took them a couple hours to smoke down to a roach.
It was a general admission show, a year and a half before the tragedy at The Who’s Cincinnati concert put an end to such things. So, after the Tosh set my friends and I made our way toward the stage. Getting to the front was never the hardest part of this maneuver; jump into the sea of humanity and the undertow would carry you in the desired direction. Holding your own up front, surviving the combination of mid-summer temps and body heat when personal space extended no further than your own layer of sweat, that was the tricky part.
I made it close, very close. Only three people between me and the stage, not more than five feet, an exceptional vantage point for witnessing the greatest rock’n’roll band in history.
The Stones’ set mixed songs off their latest album, Some Girls, some greatest hits and a couple more obscure tunes. Loose and raunchy, not as obviously choreographed as their later tours. Mick a bundle of kinetic energy, Keith so laid back he seemed to defy gravity. Bill Wyman and Charllie Watts the unflappable, steady counterweights to the Glimmer Twins’ madness. Ron Wood and the Ians, Stewart and McLagan, filling out the roster.
The one song that stands out in my memory is Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain, a languid blues tune in the Stones’ hands that – with the Minnesota heat and humidity – made the Civic Center feel like Mississippi.
Not everyone was appreciative of this change of tempo, including the broad-shouldered, shirtless guy right in front of me. He had been screaming for Sympathy for the Devil earlier and, clearly disappointed by Love in Vain, turned up the volume enough for Jagger to take notice.
Mick looked out over the crowd, but not directly at his tormentor, and declared: “If you want Sympathy, forget it.”
The Stones launched into another tune and the guy in front of me got angry. He pulled out a hunting knife and started waving it at the stage trying to change Mick’s mind.
At this point we had a bit of a physics problem. The people in front of Mr. Knife were focused on the stage and had nowhere to go anyway. The crowd behind me kept pushing forward, and all I could think is that when this guy tries to put the knife away I would get pushed right into the blade by the surging mass behind me.
Time to make my exit sideways. I knew it meant losing a prime spot, but there are some problems a guy just doesn’t need and a knife wound is one of them.
Incidentally, while there were no knife attacks that night, the Stones’ didn’t make it out entirely unscathed. Bill Wyman fell off the stage after their last song, lost consciousness and spent a night under observation at a local hospital.
(Another good local Stones tale from this tour: The band was doing surpise sets at bars and clubs, so everyone expected them to show up when Peter Tosh played the Cabooze. The place was packed in anticipation, and the crowd spilled well out onto Cedar Avenue. Sure enough, the band showed up and they tried to make their way in through different entrances. I believe Keith and Ronnie made it into the place, maybe even got close to the stage. Charlie Watts tried to come through the front door, got carded and turned away when he couldn’t produce an ID. That combined with a precarious sescurity situation to put an end to a Stones show at the Cabooze.)
(WIHAN stands for “When I Had a Nightlife,” an occasional feature described in this post.)