- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

A recent sidebar in the satirical newspaper the Onion listed things to expect on the Rolling Stones' Licks tour. It included people "mechanically" attending the shows and forcing themselves to report that the Stones "still have it."
Well, it turns out the Stones do indeed still have it. And if the baby boom generation hadn't so emptily venerated youth never trust anyone over 30 and all that it wouldn't be considered so remarkable.
For two hours Friday night at FedEx Field, any talk of Geritol, the AARP or walking canes would've seemed patently silly.
This was obvious even before the Stones hit the stage. The Strokes, purportedly one of rock's saving graces, performed admirably as the warm-up act, but they seemed like palimpsest, a third-generation copy.
Youth isn't everything; it doesn't guarantee energy, charisma, talent or verve, qualities the Stones still have in abundance.
With the Licks tour, the band is experimenting with a mixed-venue concept, playing stadiums, arenas and 3,000-seat theaters in some cities. In major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the small-medium-large theme has been wildly successful.
But in a lousy concert season with big touring acts like Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen occasionally failing to sell out arenas, the Stones seem to have skewed the ticket market in secondary cities like the District.
An MCI Center show had been planned for Saturday, but with FedEx falling short of a sellout, the band opted for a Hartford, Conn., show instead. (There are rumors, however, of an MCI Center show in January.)
Nevertheless, the stadium was plenty packed Friday night, with only a smattering of empty seats in the upper decks and obstructed-view sections.
The 50,000-strong audience was more than enough for a good party, and with a kick-off suite of songs that included "Brown Sugar," "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" and "Start Me Up," the party started quickly.
Although a horn section and three background vocalists periodically joined the group, the Stones mostly stuck to their utilitarian core: Mick Jagger, resplendently decked out and in fine voice; the gritty, spartan guitar interplay of Keith Richards and Ron Wood; Darryl Jones on bass; and the backbeat propelled by Charlie Watts.
Unlike in previous stadium jaunts, the Stones minimized the gimmicky visual theatrics. Bellowing flames for the "pleased to meet you" bits of "Sympathy for the Devil" and a semi-pornographic cartoon that accompanied "Honky Tonk Women" were the flashiest effects of the strictly serviceable set. A Jumbotron with split-screen capability was its only backdrop.
After the opening trio came one of the evening's few missteps. While the band was prepared to play "Don't Stop," one of four new songs on the recently released greatest hits package "Forty Licks," Mr. Richards unexpectedly played the intro to "Tumbling Dice." He laughed it off, and the band plowed on.
The set-list scramble was probably lost on most of the audience, as this is the first tour in the Stones' 40-year history where play lists are significantly different each night.
With casual fans making up a large part of the audience, however, the Stones hewed to the hits Friday night.
The few rarities that did emerge from the cascade of classics included "Monkey Man," one of Mr. Richards' most ferocious guitar riffs from 1969's "Let it Bleed," and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," arguably the evening's most triumphant moment.
During the song's Santana-esque jam section, the Stones' longtime saxman, Bobby Keys, Mr. Jagger and Mr. Wood each turned in impressive solos. Mr. Wood, who's been criticized by some fans for his less-than-great playing during the past five years, seemed revivified, owing at least in part to his newly won sobriety.
Other novelties included hokey but charming covers of the O'Jays' hit "Love Train" and Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," as well as "Little Red Rooster," an early single from the band's blues days.
"Little Red Rooster," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "You Got Me Rocking" (from 1994's "Voodoo Lounge") were each performed on a smaller "B-stage" at the opposite end of the field, a feature they first employed on the 1997 Bridges to Babylon tour.
Apart from those gems, it was Stones music for the masses: an acoustic rendition of "Angie" that was marred by soundmen asleep at the switch (the guitars were thin-sounding, and Mr. Wood's was barely audible); a rousing singalong performance of "You Can't Always Get What You Want"; torrid versions of "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash"; and an inevitable "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" encore.
If a few thousand more Washingtonians had ponied up for Friday's show, we may have garnered a more intimate setting and heard the deepest of deep cuts. But any good live band can kill a club or theater. The Stones can kill stadiums, too. And no matter how many wrinkles etch their faces, they're still a sight to behold.


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