Golden anniversarys are rarer in rock and roll bands than marriages, so maybe it's the momentousness of the occasion that's spurring on the Rolling Stones during the five show London-New York-New Jersey run with which they're marking their 50th year in show business.
Whatever the motivation, one thing is certain. At the Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday, from the "Get Off Of My Cloud" start to the "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" finish, the Stones sounded great.
After celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Iggy Pop offered pre-recorded testimonials to the band's transgressive power (and a group of drummers wearing gorilla masks pounded out a introductory jungle rhythm), Mick Jagger emerged from a giant lip-shaped proscenium arch and began prancing about in the New Jersey night.
Over two hours later, he was still going, catching his breath only with the superbly sung "Wild Horses," the evening's only ballad, and the one-two Keith Richards punch of "Before They Make Me Run" and "Happy." At 69 - yes, the Stones average age exceeds that of the U.S. Supreme Court - the whippet-thin Jagger is an inexhaustible marvel. He's happy to make himself look ridiculous, as when donning a fur cape for "Sympathy for the Devil," but delivers the musical goods.
But it's not just the singer, it's the songs - and the band playing them. On Thursday, Richards, guitarist Ron Wood, brilliant-as-ever drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Darryl Jones were uncommonly sharp, delivering the built-from-the-blues ramshackle precision that's their trademark.
A glance at the 22 song set list - "Start Me Up," "Miss You," "Jumpin' Jack Flash" - might lead fans who opted to not plunk down from $95 to nearly $800 for tickets to conclude all they missed was a run through of the hits.
But the Stones brought the tried and true to life with well-seasoned swagger, crisp and jagged in all the right places. The lean mix was augmented in spots by Bobby Keyes and Tim Reis on saxophones, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, and vocalists Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer, who wailed with Jagger with commanding authority on "Gimme Shelter," dedicated to New Jersey Hurricane Sandy victims.
Mick Taylor, a Stone from 1969 to 1974, joined the band to reprise his rippling guitar solo on a fabulous "Midnight Rambler." Guitarist John Mayer traded licks with Wood on a deliciously louche "Respectable." And Chuck Berry's "Around and Around," which the band hadn't performed live since 1977, was played by request, according to Jagger, though the band had a video clip of Berry duck-walking at the ready.
On Saturday, the Stones wrap up their 2012 anniversary party with a pay-per-view event complete guest appearances from Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and the Black Keys. (Details at rolling stones.com.) Will there be a 2013 tour? Nothing's been announced, but now that the Stones have started up again, it doesn't seem likely that they'll stop soon.
Here's the set list:
Get Off Of My Cloud / The Last Time / The's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It / Paint It Black / Gimme Shelter / Respectable / Wild Horses / Around and Around / Doom and Gloom / One More Shot / Miss You / Honky Tonk Women / Before They Make Me Run / Happy / Midnight Rambler / Start Me Up / Tumbling Dice / Brown Sugar / Sympathy for the Devil
Encore: You Can't Always Get What You Want / Jumpin' Jack Flash / (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction