We had drinks at the Rhino and arrived at the Wilma late. The line of hundreds stretching down Higgins and turning the corner onto Front Street had cleared, and a silhouetted mass pulsed to the music of the opening band inside the doors.
Upstairs a man stood against the parapet on the balcony in front of the bar, and next to him another man rocked wildly. I did not have the impression they knew each other.
“Hey” the first man said, “If you keep bumping into me, I’m going to have to kick your ass.”
The second man turned and looked him straight in the eye.
They burst out laughing in unison.
“Can you imagine us, two old geezers getting into a fight right here?” The first man continued.
It would have been hard to imagine.
Electric guitars and drums crescendoed and ended suddenly. Into the void, the female singer belted a note that seemed to come from someone at least double her size. She was young and wore a white jacket with custom lettering on the back. It read, “I’m not Yours.” The lights on stage cut out, and her band, The Haunt from Ft. Lauderdale Florida, left the stage to cheers and applause.
People streamed past me to get beer. We had separated from my friend on the Lolo Hotshot crew. He was somewhere in the crowd–he and his partner and his two friends, who I’d only just met at the Rhino before the show. One of the men he served with in a Marine scout sniper platoon. The other one told me he was Serbian and had been living in Greece. Both were large and looked serious until you cracked a joke.
I had one other friend who was supposed to be in attendance with us, and if not for him, I probably wouldn’t have been there. I had heard the Hu’s music several years back but was oblivious to the show, as I had been oblivious to most shows in Missoula since having a child, and I thought of this friend, who had helped convince me to go and who’d bought himself a ticket but was not there because he had been called to a wildfire in New Mexico. If I remained on the Lolo Hotshots, I would have been called to that fire too, but I had taken another Forest Service job on the Missoula trails crew. My season would start in two weeks once school ended.
I wore my new Nick’s forestry boots, blue Levi jeans , and a black, yellow, and orange tie dye shirt emblazoned with “Record Heaven,” the name of my favorite record store. The shirt and the boots were both a source of pride and envy but no more so than the woman I had for a date. Courtney stood in front of me in a little black dress and a long scarf, or as my buddy who was at the concert had called it–a shemagh. This was an Arab term that had been adopted by U.S. military personnel who served overseas, but by whatever name, it looked beautiful on her.
Two drum sets appeared on stage. After the drum sets, several amplifiers and microphones appeared, and after the amplifiers and microphones, the men themselves appeared–eight of them, all with long hair black hair and dark clothing.
The Hu hail from Mongolia– Ghengis Khan stock. They wouldn’t pronounce a single word in English throughout the entire set. The only decipherable communication between them and the crowd was the repetitive chants of “Hu,” and the devil- horned hand gesture. Their vocals are guttural and throaty, rooted in the musical tradition of their country, and it’s backed by tribalistic beating of drums, electrified horsehead fiddles, mongolian guitars, and jaw harps. Taken all together–sound, style, presence–they are formidable.
As they played, I wondered if they had kids or if they had groupies. Did they get shuttled off to a bus after the show and closed off from the spirit they’d incited among the crowd? This was conquerors music after all, and to consider that possibility seemed a little disappointing. In a less civilized setting, they might have inspired hordes to burn down the town.
The two older men rocked. They were captivated–the whole crowd was captivated, and I allowed myself to become captive too.