The Rolling Stones At Hofheinz Pavilion In 1972, Firsthand

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Ed. Note: Rocks Off's own Lonesome Onry and Mean himself, William Michael Smith, attended the Rolling Stones concert at Hofheinz Pavilion in June 1972 that was filmed for the movie Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. Since the movie screens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at several Houston-area theaters, we asked him to send us what he remembers from the show.

It's hard to imagine in this day of mega-concert events with million-dollar stages at Reliant Stadium, but in 1972 the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street tour played the 10,000-seat Hofheinz Pavillion on the University of Houston campus. And even a poor student could actually afford the ticket!

The band is releasing a film based on the two Houston concerts that day and one in Fort Worth for a one-day-only showing in theaters today. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones is truly a must-see for fans of rock and roll like it was once made and will never be made again. (L&GTRS will be released on DVD later this fall.)

There were two shows that day, and being the hippies and huge Stones fans that we were, we opted for the late show. Who wants to see the Stones at 4:00 in the afternoon? We had already seen our favorite British rockers - hell, our favorite rockers, period - at Moody Coliseum in Dallas two years earlier (Nov. 14, 1969), with Terry Reid and Chuck Berry on the Gimme Shelter tour that ended in the Altamont catastrophe that forever took the bloom off Flower Power.

So we thought we knew what we were getting into.

But, never ones for standing still with their stage productions or their music, Mick and the boys had some surprises for us. If memory serves - come on, it was 38 years and 3,000 shows ago - the stage was covered in dazzling white with an ominous green Chinese dragon figure on it.

As we waited for the show to start, we couldn't decide if this was meant to be another of the Stones' image-management attempts at being the Devil's spawn, rock's bad boys or if it was just a visually magnetizing adornment. Whatever it was, it was impossible not to look at it. One reason I want to see the film is to see that stage again, verify my own fragile memory.

After an opening set by Billy Preston and his killer who-are-these-guys gospel band that left the crowd screaming for more, the time finally arrived for our heroes to make their entrance. We were surprised to see not five but eight members in the ensemble. Mick Taylor had replaced Brian Jones on guitar, and the Stones had augmented their basic band with session great Nicky Hopkins on keys and the awesome Texas horn section of Bobby Keys from Lubbock and Jim Price from Abilene.

Opening with horn-laden, hard-driving versions of "Brown Sugar," "Bitch" and "Rocks Off," we were almost out of breath, locked in a rock and roll mental frenzy, by the time the band decided to slow down even a bit - and completely blow us away with "Dead Flowers." I may never have been to a concert that grabbed me at the opening as firmly as the Exile boys grabbed me that night.

True set list masters, they worked their way through Exile, sprinkling in gems from Gimme Shelter ("You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Gimme Shelter," Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain"), building and slowing, building and slowing until it came time to kick some serious ass down the home stretch with that nastier-than-a-peep-show Stones rock we had come for.

And it was a truly amazing series of rockers that made the Beatles seem wan and tame by any comparison: the epic "Midnight Rambler," a smoking burn-down of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny," "Rip This Joint," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "Street Fighting Man," which seemed to pack special meaning given the legion of HPD officers deemed necessary at what city fathers must have felt was an event that had serious potential to get out of hand.

I'll be eternally glad I was there, but I never went to see my heroes again. I did see Let's Spend The Night Together at a matinee in Tokyo in 1982, but by then it was almost as if they had become a caricature of themselves, with Mick prancing out on the extended catwalks and all the pre-planned showbiz jazz that someone thought the greatest rock and roll band in the world needed at that point.

I left the theater a bit disappointed that day, over the Stones for good. I could never convince myself to go to the Astrodome to see their aging productions in the Eighties and Nineties after having seen them at their peak. And June 25, 1972, those guys were peaking as few rock bands ever had.

But I can't wait to grab some popcorn and relive one of the highlight days of my misspent youth tonight.

The setlist for the second show:

Brown Sugar Bitch Rocks Off Gimme Shelter Dead Flowers Happy Tumbling Dice Love in Vain Sweet Virginia You Can't Always Get What You Want All Down the Line Midnight Rambler Bye Bye Johnny Rip This Joint Jumpin' Jack Flash Street Fighting Man

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