This cut," said Wyman, "is Mick and Billy singing lead. It's very jazzy. The working title for this one is 'Vagina.' Why? Someone called it 'Cunt' in the studio and we couldn't write that." Wyman, long identified as the "silent Stone" ("Only because no one ever asks me anything"), identified the next song as "Melody." "It's a very nice song," he said. Tour percussionist Ollie Brown (whom the Stones met in 1972 when Brown filled in with Stevie Wonder) spoke up: "Is that blues?" Wyman laughed: "That's Twenties blues. Come on, Ollie, do I have to play your roots for you?"
Ron Wood, rooster hairdo aflop, finally dragged in three hours late and the group straggled out into the hall. From the floor, their much heralded star stage was disappointing: just pointed runways for Jagger. "Go upstairs," said Watts, who was instrumental in the design. "You really can't see the star till you get up higher because the line of amps cuts it in two. But it's marvelous, it's the biggest stage we've ever had." He was right. From the upper reaches, the stage resembled a deep porcelain dish with six gently curving star points, each outlined with a foot-wide strip of metal mirroring that formed a circle in the middle of the figure. Watts was directly at the center on a raised platform that had both air vents and spotlights under it. Ollie Brown stood directly behind him. To their right were Preston and Ron Wood; to their left, Richards and Wyman; and in front was Jagger's mike stand. Jagger would stand just in front of the circular trap door that would emit the giant phallus, a confetti-spouting dragon (not used early in the tour) and Jagger himself via a hidden elevator. The stage itself, 71 feet in diameter, is raked so that the back is ten feet high and the front only five.
The 42-foot lighting ring with 300 lights was just beginning to be tested as Richards kicked off the rehearsal with a few bone-rattling licks from "Little Queenie." Jagger, solemn faced, popped a Budweiser and pranced out onto each of the star tips to test the distances. He minced backwards down the front tip to see how far he could go before toppling over into the crowd. As soon as he spotted the mirror strip, he slowed down, just as an outfielder knows that once he hits the cinder track he has only microseconds to stop before hitting the wall.
Then, after noodling for a while, Richards started "Honky Tonk Women," and Wood could not keep up with his speed runs. After two minutes, it was obvious that Richards has not played better on an American stage and that, again, his image — the wasted pirate in dirty, drooping Levi's and black shirt — and his musicianship and leadership are the very essence of the Rolling Stones. He ignored Jagger's singing and practiced on coaching Ron Wood until they could easily defer leads to each other.
Richards was virtually carrying the band. "If everything's working well," he said later, "the general idea is that you should be able to hear what you want to onstage. Charlie wants to hear me; Mick needs to hear me, drums and himself, and the bass wants to hear the drums. The amps are so directional I basically just hear myself. I don't care what I hear as long as I hear something.
"Over the years, you know, we've virtually lost control over our sound — now it's some guy at a mixing board who we may never have met and has maybe never heard us play. Is there a way to beat that system? Sure, to beat that guy."
He moved into "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Jagger singing a falsetto lead, and Wood began to be more sure of himself. He took the guitar break and it sounded good enough until Richards came in under him to remind him just how hard the Stones' sound should be. The difference was breathtaking. By three in the morning, on "Tumbling Dice," Wood knew what was expected of him and was able to handle the guitar break.
By then, only a dozen hangers-on were left and Jagger picked up Wood's silver Les Paul Gibson to play rhythm on "Fingerprint File," Wood switching to bass and Wyman to keyboards. It was not entirely satisfactory. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. the rehearsal began to fall apart. The show was not totally ready but it still had to go on that day.
Less than 12 hours later, the Stones were back in Baton Rouge after a few hours' sleep in New Orleans's Royal Orleans Hotel. The Meters opened, finished and raced back for an unrequested encore in the face of raucous cries for the "fucking Rolling Stones." Finally, at 5:20 p.m., the houselights went down to great applause and Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" floated through the PA for two minutes and 15 seconds. Then the Stones walked onstage to a hoarse scream from the crowd: "Hooray for the Rolling Stones!" When the lights came up, Jagger was lying on his back on the top point of the star and slowly dancing his way downstage during "Honky Tonk Women." He was wearing grotesque black eye makeup and a short black jacket over a loose, striped outfit that resembled a baseball uniform, with red ankle ties and white shoes.
He was already playing the audience to the hilt, waving and dancing and jumping and racing to the star points. But, curiously, only those in the first 15 or so rows were physically responding. The message from that Baton Rouge audience was clear: The Stones may be the best rock & roll band in the world but that in itself may not be such a big deal anymore.
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