They're all right, in fact, they're a gas

Ageless Stones rock all night on 'Bigger Bang' tour



Let's just get it out of the way, OK?

Yes, the Rolling Stones look as old as you think, especially Keith Richards, who looks and sounds downright creepy. But on the band's latest tour, A Bigger Bang, which stopped at Washington's MCI Center Monday night, the legendary foursome proved that regardless of how wrinkled and scrawny they look, the Stones still rock harder than many bands less than half their age.

Even when they were on automatic pilot during a few spots Monday night, the Stones were still engaging and rarely sloppy. After rockin' for so long, Mick and the boys are consummate professionals. At this point, there's really nothing more to prove. After years of experimenting with glossy textures, the band members are back to basics. No additives, just funk and fury. As they say in one of the many classics they perform on the tour, "it's only rock 'n' roll." And the Stones are doing it harder, louder and better than they have in more than a decade - even in the studio as showcased on the band's solid new album, A Bigger Bang.

The guys will bring their powerful show to Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena Feb. 1. Completely sold out and near the tail-end of the tour, it's the first Stones performance in Charm City in nearly 40 years.

Now into the fifth decade of their career, the blues-based band shows no signs of hanging up the guitars anytime soon. And, as Mick Jagger gyrated, skipped, jumped and shimmied - all while singing - for nearly two hours, it seems as if only death will keep him off the stage. Looking every bit the rock legend he is, Jagger strutted out in tight black pants and a sparkly plum-colored jacket during the opener, "Start Me Up."

Although the energetic front man was on, the rhythm section was off and the number sounded a bit like a rehearsal. Richards and Ronnie Wood struggled to interlock their guitar riffs and ended up stumbling over notes. But after that, the Stones, as James Brown would say, "got on the good foot" and delivered one hard-hitting jam after the other.

Sometimes, though, the sound system was muddy. The guitars drowned out Jagger's vocals. But the problem was rectified as the show pushed on. Despite a few audio quibbles and missed notes, it was refreshing to see the old cats so invested and having a ball. It's hard to fake a good time. And Jagger, Richards, Wood and Charlie Watts seemed relaxed and comfortable. Richards, looking like a gypsy with his big hoop earring, tattered black headband and matted hair, was the most at ease. While preening for the house, he occasionally puffed on a cigarette. As effortlessly as he flicked off the ash, he delivered scorching solos. Watts kept things expertly anchored and propulsive on the drums.

In between such oldies station favorites as "You Got Me Rocking" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," the Stones worked in cuts from the new album, including the brash "Rough Justice" and the angry "Oh No Not You Again." Lyrically, the new songs are certainly not in the league with the classics. But they were performed with as much force and vitality.

The only lull in the show was Richards turn at the mike as he warbled through "The Worst" and "Infamy." Never musically far from their roots in Southern soul and the blues, Jagger paid tribute to Otis Redding with a high-octane, slightly rushed-through version of "Mr. Pitiful." A four-piece horn section added a Stax-inspired brassiness to that song and "Tumbling Dice." Jagger even channeled Howlin' Wolf on the stomping blues number "Back of My Hand," a highlight on A Bigger Bang.

The overall energy of the show was vibrant - at times, unrelenting. The years of hard rockin' and hard livin' may be etched on their faces, but amazingly the Stones still pump up the jams.

The Rolling Stones are scheduled to perform Feb. 1 at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena. The performance is sold out.

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