New York — The scariest moment came in Boston, when overzealous fans grabbed the writhing, confetti-spitting dragon that appears at the end of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," yanking its head off. Jagger and percussionist Ollie Brown lost their grip on the head as it skittered across the stage, and the flying skull bumped Billy Preston into the front row seats. But the crowd was in good humor (more carnivorous sorts would have eliminated his solo spot) and tossed Preston back up.
This has been the sort of tour where beds are filled with ice cubes, mattresses soaked with beer (and the covers replaced so that an unsuspecting victim will come up soggy rather than snoozing) and a lady's brown plastic handbag stuffed with a hamburger (everything on it, emphasis on the ketchup). In Toronto, Jagger even had to borrow a pair of green Henri Bendel bikini underwear after his jockstrap fell apart from the strain of touring. Similarly, the Stones have spent their off moments sightseeing everywhere from the Alamo to Niagara Falls. And, based on the two Toronto shows, the last stop before the six-show Stones-produced big deal of New York, they deserved every break they could get.
On both nights, the atmosphere at the Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto had more in common with a steambath than a hockey rink. The first show reflected the strain, but never dropped below a level of competence; the second was nearly perfect. Charlie Watts kept his incredible pulse beat going without working up a sweat and Keith Richards seemed as inspired as he ever has been. It's possible that the chief musical news of this tour is Richards' return to onstage prominence. Working with Ron Wood hasn't necessarily improved his style so much as it's awakened his competitive instinct, but Richards will never play better than he did that night in Toronto. His licks on "Rip This Joint," "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and especially "Tumbling Dice" were searing, simple, supple and affecting. When he stepped out to sing "Happy" with a little-boy cock of his head, you understood once more just how important he is to this group.
And how important Ron Wood has quickly become. Bill Wyman summed it up a few days later in New York. "I loved Mick Taylor for his beauty. He was technically really great. But he was shy, maybe like Charlie and I. Mick wasn't so funky, but he's led us onto other things.
"Woody's a bit like Keith; he takes us back. He's not such a fantastic musician, perhaps, but he's more fun — got more personality."
Wyman's claims were true in Toronto. Spotting an old drinking pal backstage, he snatched him up, careening through the dressing and tuning rooms, oblivious to Charlie Watts' jumpy leer — the pal happened to be a reporter — wisecracking all the way. "Let's go watch Mick put on his makeup, that's always good for a laugh." And, beer in hand, an inevitable cigarette perched in his yapping jaw, he raced down the halls like a kid on a vacation. But the makeup man hadn't arrived yet, although Mick's four compacts, half-dozen lipsticks, tweezers, eyebrow pencils and other makeup were arrayed on the vanity table in the dressing room. It was back to the tuning room, to string one of the 12 guitars he and Richards carry to each gig.
"What am I doing!" Wood yelped in glee. "I'm with these blokes till August 14th, then I go straight out with the Faces, then with these guys again. Then I have a decision to make!" He cackled with edgy hysteria. Wood really doesn't know how long he'll be a Stone — and either choice means hurting friends.
Consider the way he joined in the first place. "We were looking around and finally Woody said, 'I'll do it if you like,'" Mick Jagger explained. "So we said all right."
"Where it changed," Woody said later, "they were looking around and looking around and finally said, 'Look, we aren't gonna do the tour if you don't do it." So I said, well, it's serious then, is it? I'd known all along that I'd like to do it, but I hadn't dared to think about it too long. Same as they hadn't, because they like our band as much as we like theirs. And I always think of the Faces before I do anything. But I thought, well, they can't blame me, really."
Onstage, Wood is as much Jagger's foil as Keith's. Jagger kicks, pokes and prods him, yanking him across the stage like a puppet, pretending to attack him savagely. How come you pick on him so much? I asked Jagger. "Welllllll, he picks on me, you know . . . We're just doing this sort of David [Bowie] and Mick Ronson routine."
Wood says he enjoys the whole thing. "I think Mick's been dying to get his hands on another guitarist," he noted with an air of comic confidentiality. "He came to me and said, 'If I come and attack you . . . you don't mind, do you?' He really loves to make it look real.
"In Montauk, when we were rehearsing, we'd be sitting there playing and he'd suddenly come up and kick me. And he tried it on Charlie's drums — once he never tried it again. Charlie did a mild flipout, said, 'Listen I don't unplug your mike lead, so don't upset my drums. And while we're at it, don't keep buggin' Ronnie.'"
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