PHILADELPHIA - When The Rolling Stones first got together in 1962, rock 'n' roll bands weren't expected to last five years let alone 50, and people have been saying the next time you see the Stones could be the last time - at least since the disastrous Altamont free concert in December 1969.
Yet as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are knocking on the door of 70, drummer Charlie Watts is 72 and Ronnie Wood is 66, the guys are out on the road once again.
This time it really does feel different. To quote one of the band's most-famous songs, “This could be the last time, this could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know.”
And if this really is, then judging by the band's performance Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood are going out at the top of their game and still able to claim the undisputed title of “World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.”
Tuesday's show in front of a large and rabid collection of Philadelphia fans got under way at 9 p.m. as Jagger and Richards led the Stones onto the stage with a blistering version of 1965's “Get Off Of My Cloud.” Hard to believe they have been doing that song for 48 years, and hard to believe it was ever better than it was Tuesday as it set the tone for the entire 2-hour-and-15-minute performance.
“How ya doing, Philadelphia? Feeling pretty good myself,” the ever-youthful Jagger, dressed in a sparkly black and silver jacket over a black shirt and black pants said after the opening number. Before the crowd could catch its breath, the Stones whipped them into a frenzy again with 1974's “It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It).”
Richards, the guitar god who still looks elegantly wasted after all these years, then played the opening riff of 1966's “Paint It, Black” loudly and defiantly, and when Watts kicked in those propulsive drum beats, the song quickly soared to another level.
Background singer Lisa Fischer matched Jagger note-for-note on the always threatening “Gimme Shelter,” and Jagger used every inch of the jutting stage inspired by the band's iconic tongue and lips logo.
An extra microphone was plugged in so Richards could add his trademark ragged background vocals to a stunning version of 1971's “Wild Horses,” while Jagger strummed an acoustic guitar. Since he started doing his customary two songs in the middle of the set in the 1980s (Tuesday's numbers were “You Got The Silver” and “Before They Make Me Run”), Richards has spent less time singing with Jagger, but Tuesday's performance showed exactly why the Glimmer Twins are the perfect foils for one another.
The “by request” segment may have been fixed – really, the fans chose the country song “Dead Flowers” when country star Brad Paisley was the special guest? – but it was no less captivating as first Wood then Paisley broke off some scrumptious solos.
“Emotional Rescue,” the 1980 end-of-disco anthem with Jagger singing in falsetto was never played live before this tour, and its Philly performance was one of the show's highlights for the diehards, with bassist Daryl Jones shining brightly (as he did later on 1978's monster “Miss You”).
New songs “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot” from last year's career-spanning greatest hits package showed the band can still crank out vital music when it tries, and the ever-popular “Honky Tonk Women” had everyone in attendance singing along with delight.
Following Richards' lead-vocal showcase, it was time for the concert's centerpiece: an absolutely brilliant version of 1970's “Midnight Rambler” featuring the tour's special guest Mick Taylor, the Stones' guitarist from its creative zenith (1969 to 1974). Taylor proved to still have his virtuosic chops as he played eye-to-eye with the other Mick, who more than held his own with his mean blues harp.
How could the Stones top that? How about heading down the homestretch with a run of “Miss You,” “Start Me Up,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Brown Sugar” and the still menacing “Sympathy for the Devil”?
The three-song encore put a nice cap on the whole thing as “You Can't Always Get What You Want” took on an almost spiritual feel with a 24-member choir (Philadelphia's own The Crossing), “Jumping Jack Flash” was still a “gas, gas, gas,” and Taylor rejoined his former band mates for a triumphant “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.”
The high-priced tickets still remain for the last two American dates: Friday in Philadelphia and Monday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (think upwards of $600 each). But The Rolling Stones are still worth every penny.
Besides, this really could be the last time.