Stories and sightings from Rolling Stones concerts that I have seen
by David Malahoff
My first Stones event was no rock show. It was a court trial. As a journalism student, in 1978, I wangled a seat at the press table a few feet from Keith Richards. Pale, tired, wearing a drab brown suit, he looked every inch the pathetic junkie facing serious jail time for drug possession. But even here the circus intruded. The courtroom was overflowing with lawyers, reporters, fans; Dan Aykroyd, of Saturday Night Live, was sitting on the floor beneath the judge's desk where, every few minutes, he'd give a thumbs up to a glum Richards. Lorne Michaels, the producer of SNL even testified as a character witness.
One of the side pleasures of seeing the Rolling Stones in concert is people watching. Some of those sightings are more vivid than others. In 1989, I bought a cheap bus package to see the Stones in Syracuse, New York. About to board the bus that morning in Toronto, I watched amazed as an army of Wayne's World rejects tottered, staggered and stumbled into the bus. Fourteen hours before showtime and they were already partied out. After the concert, travelling down the freeway at midnight, heading for home, the booze and the drugs began to catch up. The headbangers began to climb into the overhead luggage racks to pass out, serenaded by empty beer cans rolling up and down the aisle.
I recently saw the Rolling Stones in Toronto. Twice. They looked hungry, played hungry and delivered two entertaining evenings of musical highs, one jaw dropping musical screw-up (an out of tempo Sympathy For The Devil that gave free jazz a bad name), and when Keith Richards slipped and fell flat on his back during the first seconds of the opening song it was the oddest start to a Stones show I've ever seen. And I've seen thirteen of them in the past twenty years.
Next to me, at the Air Canada Centre, was a well dressed guy, mid-thirties, clean cut. For the entire two hours of the concert he did a delicate dance of body, hands and feet-half Tai Chi, half line dance is the only way I can describe it. He wasn't drunk. He wasn't obnoxious. Sometimes he'd scamper one way then scamper back again. Hands making elaborate fluttering movements, head tilted to the ceiling, sometimes bending his body at the waist and then pausing, he was completely self-absorbed. A butterfly in GAP clothing.
Two nights later, walking up the steps to the Skydome for the second show, I pass a street guy. He's got white whiskers and looks like Gabby Hayes the old sidekick from movie Westerns. He holds his cap in hand. As I walk by he says, "Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed my name."
Did I enjoy myself? Sure. I love the Stones and the music they make. I like their showmanship. I like that they have no self pity no matter what happens to them, deserved or undeserved. And I like their loyalty to the idea of the band even when they haven't always been loyal to each other.