Rolling Stones rock Brooklyn at 50th anniversary gig

NEW YORK – It sure didn’t feel like a farewell.

The Rolling Stones – average age 68-plus, if you’re counting – were in rollicking form as they rocked the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for 2 1/2 hours Saturday night, their first U.S. show on a mini-tour marking a mind-boggling 50 years as a rock band.

And although every time the Stones tour, the inevitable questions arise, – whether it’s "The Last Time," to quote one of their songs – there was no sign that anything is ending anytime soon.

"People say, why do you keep doing this?" mused 69-year-old Mick Jagger, the band’s impossibly energetic frontman, before launching into "Brown Sugar." "Why do you keep touring, coming back? The answer is, you’re the reason we’re doing this. Thank you for buying our records and coming to our shows for the last 50 years."

Jagger was in fine form, with strong vocals and his usual swagger – strutting, jogging, skipping and pumping his arms like a man half his age. And though he briefly donned a flamboyant feathered black cape for "Sympathy for the Devil" and later, some red-sequined tails, he was mostly content to prowl the stage in a tight black T-shirt and trousers.

The band’s guitarists, the brilliant Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, alternated searing solos and occasionally ventured onto a stage extension that brought them closer to the crowd. The now-gray Richards, wearing a red bandana, exuded the easy familiarity of a favorite uncle: "While we wait for Ronnie," he said at one point, "I’ll wish you happy holidays." Watts, the dapper drummer in a simple black T-shirt, smiled frequently at his band mates.

The grizzled quartet was joined on "Gimme Shelter" by Mary J. Blige, who traded vocals with Jagger and earned a huge cheer at the end. Also visiting: the Texas blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr.

The sense of nostalgia was heightened by projections on a huge screen of footage of the early days, when the Stones looked like teenagers. At one point, Jagger reminisced about the first time the band played New York – in 1964.

A carton of milk cost only a quarter then, he said. And a ticket to the Rolling Stones? "I don’t want to go there," he quipped. It was a reference to the sky-high prices at the current "50 and Counting" shows, where even the "cheap" seats cost a few hundred dollars and a prime seat cost in the $700 range or higher.

From the opening number, "Get Off Of My Cloud," the band played a generous 23 songs, including two new ones – "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot" – but mostly old favorites. The rousing encore included "Jumping Jack Flash," of course, but the final song was "Satisfaction." And though the song speaks of not getting any, the consensus of the packed 18,000-seat arena was that it was a satisfying evening indeed.

"If you like the Stones, this was as good a show as you could have had," said one fan, Robert Nehring, 58, of Westfield, N.J., who’d paid $500 for his seat. "It was worth it," he said simply.

The Brooklyn show was a coup for the new Barclays Center – there are no Manhattan shows. It followed two rapturously received Stones shows in London late last month. The band also will play two shows in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 13 and 15.

And just before that, the Stones will join a veritable who’s who of British rock royalty and U.S. superstars at the blockbuster 12-12-12 Superstorm Sandy benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. Also scheduled to perform: Paul McCartney, the Who, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Eddie Vedder, Billy Joel, Roger Waters and Chris Martin.

In a flurry of anniversary activity, the band also released a hits compilation last month with two new songs, "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot," and HBO premiered a new documentary on their formative years, "Crossfire Hurricane."

The Stones formed in London in 1962 to play Chicago blues, led at the time by the late Brian Jones and pianist Ian Stewart, along with Jagger and Richards, who’d met on a train platform a year earlier. Bassist Bill Wyman and Watts were quick additions.

Wyman, who left the band in 1992, was a guest at the London shows last month, as was Mick Taylor, the celebrated former Stones guitarist who left in 1974 and replaced by Wood, the newest Stone and the youngster at 65.

The inevitable questions have been swirling about the next step for the Stones: another huge global tour, on the scale of their last one, "A Bigger Bang," which earned more than $550 million between 2005 and 2007? Something a bit smaller? Or is this mini-tour, in the words of their new song, really "One Last Shot?"

The Stones won’t say. But in an interview last month, they made clear they felt the 50th anniversary was something to be marked.

"I thought it would be kind of churlish not to do something," Jagger told The Associated Press. "Otherwise, the BBC would have done a rather dull film about the Rolling Stones."

There certainly was nothing dull about the band’s performance on Saturday, a show that brought together many middle-aged fans, to be sure, but also some of their children, who seemed to be enjoying the classic Stones brand of blues-tinged rock as much as their parents.

Yes, a Stone’s average age might be a bit higher than that of the average Supreme Court justice. (To be fair, the newest justices bring the average down). But to watch these musicians play with vitality and vigor a half-century on is to believe that maybe they were right when they sang, "Time Is On My Side." At least for a few more years.

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