Ashanti’s Toes On Fire, Vines Ready For A Sword Fight At VMA Rehearsals

Concerned as the acts were about nailing their performances, they were just as psyched about taking part in this year's event.

NEW YORK — A few days before show time many award ceremonies are plagued with problems, including under-rehearsed routines, faulty pyro and even artist cancellations. Compared with such events, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards are relatively glitch-free. Relatively.

On Tuesday, as many of the artists rehearsed their performances for the show, there were a few hiccups. When stagehands set up giant streetlight props for Ja Rule and Ashanti’s stage set, one wobbled dangerously, looking like it might crash to the ground, and as they performed the curtain failed to rise. Sheryl Crow’s performance was bathed in unwanted feedback because her keyboard was positioned in front of the house speakers. And a large hanging sign with lightbulbs that spelled “Hives” wouldn’t fit behind the band. These problems are all, of course, being addressed.

Concerned as the acts were about nailing their performances, they were just as psyched about taking part in this year’s event.

“For me, it’s like getting up for that big championship game,” Ja Rule said. “It’s like the World Series or something like that. This is the big stage and the big show, and you gotta come out and perform and do your best.”

“I definitely look forward to just being in the area with so much talent and hot, famous artists and just putting on a great performance,” Ashanti said after her run-through. “I can’t wait.”

Vines frontman Craig Nicholls was just as enthused about having the opportunity to rock the VMAs. “We’re happy that we’re a part of this great big thing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing our song and seeing other people play their songs and just seeing who wins the awards. I got my fingers crossed for the White Stripes.”

While on Monday Justin Timberlake showed up to check out the house and host Jimmy Fallon walked the stage and practiced a few lines, Tuesday was the first day the performers rehearsed their songs on the Radio City Music Hall stage. And though the construction crew was still drilling and sawing noisily at a corner of the main set, everything was in working order, including surreal stage designs, projection screens and enough lights to illuminate a small city.

Large cards with the attendees’ names and photos were affixed to the backs of the orange seats, revealing the seating for this year’s VMAs. At this point, it looks like the front row of celebs will include Lisa Marie Presley, Britney Spears, P. Diddy, Mike Myers, Eminem, Xzibit, Kate Hudson, the Osbournes, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Nelly, Nas, Anthony Kiedis, Kirsten Dunst and Jennifer Lopez.

It’s no accident that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is seated far from Lopez, considering how eager he was to sniff her butt last year (see “Kurt Loder Bitten By Triumph The Insult Comic Dog” ). And it will be interesting to see how Sheryl Crow fares next to “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville.

Crow, clad in blue jeans, a white sleeveless top and a brown cowboy hat, was the first artist to rehearse for the show. Although she was clearly frustrated with the feedback-drenched mix, she maintained her sense of humor and even broke into an impromptu version of the Paul McCartney song “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Her mood lifted considerably right before her final take when her golden retriever ran onstage and parked next to her keyboard.

The Hives and the Vines will perform back-to-back at the VMAs in what is being billed as a battle of the bands. But the musicians don’t exactly view it that way.

“We’re going to have a sword fight if it’s not clear who actually sounded better or looked better,” joked the Vines’ Nicholls before turning more serious. “No man, it’s not like that at all. It just so happens that we’re playing together. We passed that battle of the bands competition. We did that years ago and I think [the Hives] did as well.”

The Hives, who will play on the right front side of the stage before the Vines’ full-stage stint, are of similar mind.

“It’s not really a competition,” singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist said. “You can’t win in music. Everybody loses all the time.”

“We’re a pretty competitive band,” added Hives guitarist Nicholaus Arson, “but the main thing is we don’t really like competitions in music.”

First the Vines rehearsed for an hour on their own. Their performance was loud, subversive and highly energetic, and on two takes Nicholls replaced all of the chorus melodies with near-random screaming.

“We just try and have a good time,” he explained afterwards. “If we’re feeling like we’re pissed off, I guess it’s going to sound pissed off. If we’re more kind of mellow, [the music will be] more restrained, more melodic. There’s always an element of improvising with our live performances.”

The Hives flawlessly ripped through multiple takes of their number and at this point may be the favorite in the battle. Their performance was powerful and energetic, sounding like a cross between the Stooges and the Sonics.

“I actually believe that we’re the best band around because we get to decide ourselves what to do in the band, so we might as well do what we think is best,” Almqvist said. “And we’re skilled enough musicians that we can pull it off.”

Ja Rule and Ashanti started their rehearsal by spending 30 minutes walking through their routine onstage without music. Then, with props in hand and lights and special effects at full tilt, they rehearsed in earnest. The performance was seductive and alluring and included a special unannounced guest who should help raise the room temperature when he joins in on Thursday night.

“For me, and I think for a lot of people, it’s going to be looked upon as a breakthrough performance,” Ja Rule said. “It’ll be a performance where you’re seeing a unity for the first time. Also I hope people are going to look at it and say, ‘Wow, here’s a rapper doing something very different from what we’re used to seeing.’ ”

Though she was excited about pulling off the number on the VMAs, Ashanti couldn’t wait to get off the stage because her high heels were killing her feet. When Ja Rule joked, “C’mon Ashan, you gotta do this one two-step,” she replied, “I only got one step left in me. My toes is on fire.”

Judging from their rehearsal, when she and Ja Rule exit Thursday night, the stage will be on fire. And the other performers should burn up whatever’s left of it by the end of the evening.

Catch all the sizzlin’, star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News’ preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.

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