Tour De Force: The Rolling Stones Rake it In and Rock the House

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The Concert in Raleigh was a hit-and-run, with the band arriving a few hours before show time and departing during the fireworks display. "Like fleeing the scene of a crime," says Wood, smiling. The Stones flew in from Boston, where they had played two shows. The weather in Boston was unseasonably cold, and Richards was forced to open a trunk he had packed for December. "It's too damn early to wear me leathers," he says, stretching out his pants. That night, Jagger's breath was visible in plumes, and the wind carried the faint, almost melancholy smell of marijuana in the crisp nighttime air.

The morning after the second Boston show, the Stones learned that Nicky Hopkins, who played keyboards with them in the '60s and '70s, had died in Nashville, Tenn., the night before; he was 50. After hearing this, saxophonist Bobby Keys took a long walk through the park across from the band's hotel. When the band reached Raleigh a few hours later, the somber mood was lifted by the sunshine and the breezes, and it seemed like the Stones had been given one more shot at summer. "Beautiful," says Leavell, who owns a tree farm in Georgia, as he steps off the plane. "My beloved South."

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The band and their entourage pass the dead time before each show backstage, wandering through a maze of trailers and small prefab dressing rooms. Backstage is a self-sufficient universe: There is a makeup room, wardrobe room, tuning room and workout room, where Jagger limbers up. At the center of the complex is a high white tent, the Voodoo Lounge, where some members of the entourage make bets at the snooker table, others slide trays along the buffet table, and local dignitaries meet the boys. This year the Voodoo Lounge has already welcomed, among others, John F. Kennedy Jr., Steven Tyler, Peter Wolf, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jack Nicholson. "They come out to see the monkeys," says Richards, racking snooker balls across the room. Wood selects a cue and says, "Set 'em up."

Wood and Richards share a dressing room across a path from Jagger's workout room. An hour before the show, the guitarists have gathered here, each to prepare in his own way. Wood has switched from cranberry juice to vodka and cranberry juice. And the two men, sitting on the arms of a floral-patterned couch, each with acoustic guitars, wind through several old country songs. "Warming up the hands," says Wood, sipping his drink. Every now and then, the crowd roars as a guitar tech or a roadie crosses the stage, casting shadows. "Let me at 'em," says Richards, strumming. "Open the cage."

A moment later, Richards puts down his guitar, crosses the room and opens the door. He looks at the sky. Above the din of the swelling crowd he can hear an odd singsong — Jagger is going through his scales. Then he notices the sign across the way: Workout Room. "What can he do in there that we can't do in here?" he asks, closing the door. Dropping to the floor, he does five quick one-handed push-ups, the tip of his cigarette gracing the floor each time, leaving a neat brown circle. He jumps to his feet, pats his stomach and says, "Peak condition."

Just before the band takes to the stage, the members of the entourage go to work, taking their places around the stadium. The Voodoo Lounge is desolate in these final moments. The band meets in the tent and then starts walking together: up a flight of stairs, through a tunnel, into the evening. They're greeted along the way by various members of their crew. Information is exchanged. When they reach the back of the stage, these people fall away. "I've never seen our show," says Charlie Watts. "I've never seen the screen with my face 20 stories high. Everyone out there, they all face one direction; I'm looking the other way."

The crowd comes alive with the unmistakable beat of "Not Fade Away." Jagger slinks across the stage. As he moves, he can see how each note registers in the same basic way on each face, like a roomful of TVs all tuned to the same channel. It has been almost three decades since the Stones first retooled American blues, and still they have the power to bring the crowd to its feet. As the set moves on, they run through standards: "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar," "Beast of Burden," "Monkey Man." When they play the first chords of "Satisfaction," the crowd roars, and the stadium fills with all the associations those notes hold for the 50,000 fans: summer nights; beach roads; bar brawls.

Jagger makes full use of the sprawling stage, climbing ramps that move out over the crowd, gliding down onto the floor. From the seats he seems to vanish and reappear at various points onstage, and following him is like tracking a missile on a radar screen. "He's the best frontman in rock & roll," says Leavell. "It's hard for me not to watch him when I'm supposed to be up there playing."

Wood and Richards are less active, moving onto the ramps only rarely. And Watts watches it all from behind, taking in the madness with cool, detached eyes. "I've never filled the stereotype of the rock star," he says. "Back in the '70s, Bill Wyman and I decided to grow beards, and the effort left us exhausted."

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