The Rolling Stones’ caravan of rogues had few moments of down time in the first few months of 1972. They were finishing up a new double-album, “Exile on Main St.,” in Los Angeles after recording sessions in France the previous summer. They were doing legal battle with their former manager, Allen Klein, over the release of a couple of albums, including the hits collection “Hot Rocks 1964-1971.” And they were gearing up for a massive tour of North America, their first in the States since their epic ’69 jaunt ended in chaos and death at Altamont.
Through all this, Mick Jagger still found time to be Mick Jagger, as he lunched with ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and then whisked off to attend a recording session with John Lennon and Yoko Ono — just another day in the life of a rock star who had become a celebrity.
Yet in mid-May when the Stones convened at the Rialto Theatre in Montreux, Switzerland, the mad rush took a few days off and the band got down to the business of rehearsing for what would be their biggest and most scrutinized tour yet. The release of “Exile” was imminent (May 26) and the tour wasn’t far behind (opening June 3 in Vancouver). But for now, it was just the core group — Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman — finding a flow and whittling down the mostly new or recent songs that would make up the setlist.
The ’72 concerts were remarkable musical events devoid of the gimmicks — from pyro to inflatable props — that would mar later tours, and the Rialto rehearsals offer an intimate peek into the subtle dynamics of a great band’s inner workings. Whereas Jagger commands the lion’s share of attention on stage with his constant gyrations, here he also functions as a toe-tapper, cheerleader and interested observer as his bandmates hone their interplay.
Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” recently recorded for “Exile,” sets the tone, with Watts tilting his head back, shutting his eyes and tapping the rims as he locks in the groove. Playing in a tight circle, the band’s loose-but-right interplay exudes a hypnotic pull.
Cigarette smoldering, whiskey bottle on the piano, Keith’s at home as he settles into a couple of extended blues vamps.
Jagger dips in and out of the give-and-take. If anyone’s in charge, it’s Richards. He dictates the tempo of “Tumbling Dice” with his torso as much as his guitar-playing. Cigarette smoldering, whiskey bottle on the piano, Keith’s at home as he settles into a couple of extended blues vamps. Ian Stewart, the band’s loyal roadie, hops on the keys, while Jagger cheers them on, waving his arms on a drum flourish.
Throughout, the implacable Wyman is the anti-John Entwistle on bass, his right thumb the only discernibly active body part, his left hand fingering the strings so gently the movement barely registers.
For “Loving Cup,” the loose, shaggy vibe comes into sharper focus, with horns and piano joining in. Mick and Keith find that sweet-sour vocal blend, and soon everybody, even the cherub-faced Taylor, can’t resist the power of that refrain: “Gimme little drink from your lovin’ cup, just one drink and I’ll fall down drunk.”
The vibe fades as a suit presents the band with gold records for “Sticky Fingers.” The Stones greet him with downcast eyes. Photographers click away while instructing the band on how to pose with its new prizes, but it’s futile. The Stones’ tolerance for entertaining unwanted visitors has already left the building.