The show opened Sunday night without the hanging leaves, which had been removed because they were considered ineffective, and because it was too much of a temptation to try to touch them from the balconies. At 8:35 the steel band began playing at the foot of the stage, 45 minutes after roving knots of drummers had begun circling the hall. At 9:15 they stopped, and the crowd booed when they started again. Four minutes later, the first of the cheers went up as those with line-of-sight seats spotted movement under the tent. It was an hour and 19 minutes after the scheduled start; the guitars had been plugged in and it was discovered that, according to one observer, "they were picking up every radio and television station in the city." New guitars — Wood and Richards take six apiece to each gig — had to be brought to the Garden. At 9:30 came the inevitable chant — "We want the Stones," as angry and petulant as the look on Mick's mug — but it was not to be rewarded for another three minutes.
Then the tent went up, the petals dropped (smoothly and completely this time), and "Honky Tonk Women" began. But by the time they'd finished "All Down the Line," the second song, it was clear that something was drastically amiss.
The bass was far too loud, and so was Jagger's voice. In some parts of the hall, Preston's keyboards drowned the guitars; in others, they couldn't be heard at all. Worse, Jagger seemed uncomfortable with the new stage, which looked a lot larger than the regular one. He didn't really know what to do with the space, and the wireless microphone which had given him such increased mobility in the other shows, couldn't be used. "Happy" and "Tumbling Dice" sounded fit for a roller rink. It was awful — still, parts were sublime as Watts held it together and Richards riffed wildly, pulling Wood in from solos that suddenly seemed to reveal just what Mick Taylor's advantages were.
After "Jumpin' Jack Flash," the band didn't leave the stage, even though the houselights were up and the crowd recognized that something special was going on. As Richards moved to bass and Wyman to guitar, the first throbbing note of "Sympathy" split the air. A firecracker, tossed from the crowd, erupted a foot from the stage.
From the wings a mystery guitarist appeared. In drape coat and a cap, with a big auburn beard, he at first seemed to be John Lennon with Clairol. Then the shouts of recognition went up. It was Eric Clapton — so besmirched with makeup that he was virtually unrecognizable even through binoculars. If the set had been a drag — easily the worst of the tour, though it was later learned that one of Wood's amps had blown — this made up for it.
Finally, Wood descended on the elevator from which the 15-foot cock and the dragon appear, played through the resultant feedback and rose again with Jagger leering beside him. As the petals folded and the music concluded, it was Richards, though, who raced to the gap and waved goodbye.
The group adjourned to Atlantic director of artist development Earl McGrath's apartment, overlooking Carnegie Hall. Prince Rupert Lowenstein had planned a spaghetti dinner for 20 but it wound up a revel for 80. Together with Clapton the band jammed in the McGraths' bedroom until 7:30 Monday morning, causing Clapton to miss a singles session slated for 11:00 a.m.
The critical reception from New York's daily press was wary, as though the reviewers couldn't quite believe it. John Rockwell, in a 1500-word New York Times essay, spent his time avoiding the New York performance by enumerating the differences between it and the road shows. Ernest LeoGrande of the Daily News called the Stones "the Rolls-Royce of rock & roll," but allowed that "the mechanics of the induced excitement showed through at times." Only the Post's Jan Hodenfield, always the most waspish of the lot, went all the way. Though they were "always a good little rock & roll band," he suggested that "perhaps even the Rolling Stones have to move on."
The Stones reportedly were not satisfied. McGrath claims otherwise, but Mick and Keith supposedly slipped out to check over the Garden's sound system. At any rate, someone adjusted something, because Monday's show was a vast improvement musically, even featuring the public debut of "Cherry Oh Baby." Jagger rode the stage with much more ease, working off the tension between Richards and Wood's taut, suddenly audible riffs. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," one of the tour's consistent touchstones, was mesmerizing, the pure, breathtaking solos breaking over the waves of rhythm. The rockers had their punch back, particularly on "Tumbling Dice," the tour's centerpiece. And if Monday was still a bit calculated, Tuesday was inspired — although Richards was so exhausted — he'd had virtually no sleep for 48 hours — that he declined to sing "Happy" and slumped back to the hotel without playing on "Sympathy."
This has been the kind of tour that survives its catastrophies. "All of a sudden Keith was gone," Wood told a visiting Al Kooper back at the hotel, "Charlie leaned over and said, 'Set the beat' — and I couldn't even remember the fucking thing! But I just tried to remember the record, and it went all right."
As Bill Wyman put it: "We've settled into it now. Every night we learn something new."
This is a story from the July 31, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.
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