I’d seen the Rolling Stones at Wembley Empire Pool in north London in 1973 on the Goats Head Soup tour, still with Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. I remember scorching versions of Starfucker, Happy and Rip this joint. I saw them again on the Voodoo Lounge tour at the Sydney Cricket Ground, supported by the Cruel Sea, with 78,000 others including my 13 year old son, Joe. Our tickets were numbered something like Stand 7 Row 1, seats 4 and 5. I just knew we would be in the first row right in front of the stage, not in the front row of a nosebleed stand where, without any binoculars, we could watch ants with guitars performing way off in the distance. I spent much of the evening trying to convince Joe that what we were experiencing was just amazing.
By the time they next came to Sydney in 2003, on the Licks tour, I’d surpressed the memory of that anti-climax but was crushed after trying and failing to get tickets to their sold out gigs at the Olympic stadium. But then they announced a single gig at the decaying art deco Enmore Theatre in the next suburb to ours. With maximum capacity of 1600, this called for the abandonment of all restraint on how unbelievable getting a ticket would be.
Sydney’s Enmore Theatre
Tickets would go on sale on a Monday morning at 9am, by phone or on-line. All the publicity insisted that all tickets would be sold to the first 1600 who got through. I got to my office at 8am and experimented with which desk arrangements of phone and mouse would give me as a right hander the best hope of frantic, rapid phone redial and repeat resets of the web booking page. I’d mouse with my right hand and press the redial button with my left. At 8.55am I got going, over and over for a full hour like a bar-pressing rat in a lab experiment. Not once did I get through.
As all optimism drained away, I gave it a few final attempts, running a “this time, surely” prayer in my head. Nothing. I then walked down two floors to the room that housed my research grant team. “Well, meet the guy who just wasted an hour of time he should have spent working away on a paper, trying in vain to get tickets to the Rolling Stones gig at the Enmore” I told them sheepishly.
Katie Bryan-Jones was a Californian Fulbright scholar who was spending a year with us. She was about six foot two, in her early twenties and bursting with good health and vitality. She looked at me and said deadpan “Do you like the Rolling Stones?” I began to explain that everyone my age had grown up with their music as a soundtrack to their lives.
She interrupted me. “Hey, I‘ve got two tickets to that gig. Would you like one?” She explained that she’d heard that if you joined the Rolling Stones’ Australian fan club, and paid $100, you got well over that in merch like T-shirts, caps, badges and CDs but importantly, priority access to tickets. So she’d joined and got the tickets to the Enmore.
I nearly wet myself with excitement. These were the hottest tickets I could ever remember going on sale. An almost intimate gig with the world’s most famous ever rock band to tell people about for the rest of your life. Would I like a ticket? Is water wet? Is the Pope a catholic? But haven’t you bought the other ticket for your boyfriend or something? “Well, sort of .. but really, you’re very welcome to have it” she assured me. I handed her the money on the spot.
On the night of the gig a few weeks later, we met in a Turkish pide shop a block away from the Enmore. My shout and order anything you want I insisted, the magnanimous ticket holder told her. I’d brought a very good wine along.
An hour later, we walked down toward the theatre, stopping to buy and load up a disposable camera at a pharmacy. This I secreted down my underpants, expecting a no cameras inspection at the door.
As we neared the main entrance, Katie handed me the tickets. I looked at them and froze. There were no seat numbers on them. Had she been conned and been sent fake tickets? It seemed possible.
Security goons swarmed everywhere. One came up to us and reached for our tickets. It was the “colourful Sydney identity” strongman Tom Domican. I was reminded of the Rolling Stones hiring the Hells Angels as security at the ill-fated Altamont concert in 1969. He pointed us to an internal doorway which led us to the mosh pit. So not only had we real tickets, but we had the best tickets you could get. We were about 10 metres from the stage in a sea of aging forever youngs.
I saw a few famous names and faces near us in the crowd, Glenn A Baker and Adam Spencer were two. How amazing that these celebrities had been able to get tickets in the huge competition to get the few that were on offer! What were the odds of that?
Jet were the support act. I remember nothing about them other than wanting them to get off after each song. Twenty interminable minutes later, it started. They opened with Midnight Ramber, Tumbling Dice and Live with me. Ronnie Wood and Keef both looked cadaverous. Both ignored the smoking ban and played sweeping, chiming chops and riffs deep in my DNA. They throttled their guitar necks and looked utterly dissolute. Mick ran about all night, pouting and jaggering and enjoying it enormously. Charlie was in his own world, impassive and rock solid.
About three quarters of the way through, two ordinary looking guys in jeans and tees with guitars sauntered on stage. I missed what Mick said but then it rapidly dawned: it was Angus and Malcom Young from AC/DC. The four guitar gods dueled through the BB King standard Rock me baby, and Angus and Keef duck-walked across stage, Chuck Berry style. We all died and went to heaven.
I’ve seen hundreds of musical acts over my life (Bands seen), many unforgettable. But this had just everything. It was the benchmark. The best. Pure bliss.
Throughout the night, Mick constantly pulled on a water bottle and at one stage threw an open one into the air near us. Water that had been in the bottle, perhaps in direct contact with his lips splashed over us. This molecular intimacy made us both decide that, for those moments, homeopathy might well have something to it after all.
Me, I’ve not washed my face in the 15 years since.
Sydney Morning Herald review
The full concert
10 favourite Rolling Stones tracks I’m movin’ on (live) She said yeah That’s how strong my love is Get off my cloud Monkey man Can you hear me knockin’ Fool to cry Backstreet girl Too much blood Rocks off (and my band doing it in 2012)