The four trucks carrying the special gigantic mechanical stage arrived at Madison Square Garden from upstate Newburgh, where the platform had been used for rehearsals in an airplane hangar at the old military airfield there. Construction began at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 18th, and proceeded for the next 48 hours. On Friday morning at eight, the light, rigging and equipment trucks arrived. Work began in earnest to get ready for the Garden party.
The hall was completely decked out by 6:30 p.m. Saturday, when dress rehearsal was due to start. Strings of blue Christmas tree bulbs were cast across the Garden ceiling, where they winked on and off not so much like fireflies as a used car lot or carnival midway; 350 ten-foot leaves made of white gauze with silver foil trim (like the back of the stage petals) were suspended randomly from the roof. With the conical tent covering the band's equipment, the hydraulically powered petals, which would fold down to reveal the Stones and form the six-pointed star stage, gave the empty arena the general appearance of an Apollo launch, an impression augmented by the headsets of the 100-odd crew members.
Manager Peter Rudge paced the Garden floor nervously; his sudden jumpiness was surprising. In Toronto, he had been extraordinarily open, even letting a reporter sit in while he made a long, wise-cracking mid-afternoon telephone call to his New York office. "Tell him," he told one of his assistants about a complaining promoter, "that if he doesn't knock it off, he'll never get another Golden Earring date," a reference to the middle-level Dutch band Rudge also manages (as he does Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Who).
Later he offered an extensive overview of their finances. "Expenses are up 350% over 1972," he explained. "That's for a smaller touring party but a much bigger production. We're getting from 60 to 70 to 80% of the gate, depending on costs." The cost percentage breakdown was about 30% for taxes (52% in Toronto and the Canadian revenuers weren't taking any foreign checks; they wanted cash), 20% for legal expenses, which includes hotels, the hall rent and slices for the various co-promoters (Bill Graham and the like), and 30% for other costs, which include travel, cartage for stages and equipment, salaries and other incidentals like Charlie Watts' phone bill. That last expense must be enormous by now if Bill Wyman's story that a homesick Watts spends at least an hour and a half on the phone to his wife (who'll join him in Los Angeles) is true.
Based on an $11 million gross (which comes well within reason), the Stones will pay more than three million in taxes on this tour. The city of Cleveland alone received $25,000 for the single show there, which grossed $840,000 from 82,000 patrons. In the one show for which we were able to obtain definite gross information, the Milwaukee Stadium date, which packed in 54,000, the gross was $540,000; the Stones received 61.5%, about $350,000. The six Garden dates — 19,500 customers at an average of better than $10 a head — will gross in the neighborhood of $1,200,000.
Twenty percent of $11 million is going to make Mick Jagger's statement to one journalist that "about all I'll end up with is a white suit and $1000" seem a little silly. Dividing the profits five ways (with a full share to each of the four core members and a half share to Billy Preston and Wood — who, Rudge says "have incentives; they deserve 'em"), means that Jagger, Watts, Richards and Wyman will each net about $450,000 for the tour, Wood and Preston about $225,000. (Percussionist Ollie Brown is apparently on straight salary.) Assuming 50% income taxes, which is reasonable, that leaves a six-figure net per man, a quarter of a million per Stone. Yet, as anyone who has seen Jagger leap about at top speed for two-and-a-half hours in temperatures approaching 100° will acknowledge, he earns it. So do they all.
It was a bit past 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. Jagger circled aimlessly on the arena floor, dressed casually in jeans, white socks, black loafers and a belted tour jacket which, like many of his stage costumes, has a vaguely Oriental look and jibes with his recently begun study of karate. Jagger is in remarkable physical condition, and his movements onstage reflect the reason why. Many of them — particularly those which find him lifting one leg, storklike, for power-kick bursts — are drawn directly from the first kata of karate.
By 9:30, with the fine line of tension which characterizes even informal Stones performances amplified by the Garden's union crew verging on double overtime, the band finally took the stage for rehearsal. Bill Wyman was somewhere else in the hall, but the band began to play with Keith on bass, Ronnie holding down the guitar by himself.
The song began with the pulse beat which characterizes so many Stones songs. Lost in idle reverie, presuming that at dress rehearsal the group would run through the entire show, I thought for just a moment that they were doing "Honky Tonk Women." Suddenly the reality registered: That beat was particular and unmistakable. For the first time since Altamont, the Rolling Stones were playing "Sympathy for the Devil" in a remotely public appearance. Notions of hubris and violence reigned.
Relief came from the wings. The more than 100 steel drummers the Stones had retained for its opening act circled the stage, banging and dancing while Jagger moved among them, beer in hand, sunglasses perched atop his head, as casual as a man strolling in the park on Sunday. With their sublime arrogance, the Stones had found a way to do the one song presumably denied them, and to defuse it in the process.
The rehearsal dwindled. The Stones ran through "Cherry Oh Baby," a reggae number they'd discovered in Jamaica, "Honky Tonk" — at last — and "All Down the Line." The only problem was that the stage petals refused to drop. A problem in the hydraulic jacks stalled the music for a half-hour. At 11:45, the word came: The rehearsal was over.
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