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THE STONES HANG FIRE

The Rolling Stones have seen better days, but the band still made Wednesday a memorable night at Rich Stadium.

This was classic rock in all its overhyped, predictable and geriatric glory. The remarkable thing about the Stones is not their age, but their ability to play kick-butt rock 'n' roll at any age.

Somehow the old Stones have turned hedonism into respectable family entertainment. On a warm and breezy night, a crowd estimated at 40,000 showed up -- fans of all ages, including parents with their teen-age and pre-teen children.

They were treated to a high-quality, high-tech arena spectacular, with a giant oval video screen dwarfing a stage designed as a tribute to Babylonian decadence.

Blues Traveler, the opening act, appealed to the younger fans but played only a brief, uninspired set.

Then Keith Richards started the Stones show alone on stage, playing the opening chords to "Satisfaction" on his guitar. Richards was wearing a knee-length leopard-skin coat, and with his ghostly white hair, creased leather face and gaunt body, he's the perfect mascot for the band.

Lead singer Mick Jagger, in a white sport coat and black slacks, quickly jumped on stage. Jagger remains nimble, scrawny and sexy. At 54, he doesn't have quite the vocal force of earlier days, but he remains a role model for bombastic rock stars.

The Stones treated the crowd to a greatest-hits collection early in the show. The set list included "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll," "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Bitch."

Jagger led the crowd in numerous sing-alongs, and then thanked them: "You're very loud and very beautiful!"

The band hit its stride about a half-hour into the set with a scorching version of "Gimme Shelter." Jagger did a bump-and-grind with one of the female backup singers that added to the song's punch. Richards and fellow guitarist Ronnie Wood were superlative, with equal support from drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Darryl Jones.

Jagger took a break from the hard-rocking numbers as he strapped on an acoustic guitar. "I hope this is depressing enough for you," he said while beginning "Sister Morphine," a song about drug addiction.

Finally, about an hour into the concert, the Stones played a track off their
new album, "Bridges to Babylon," from which the tour takes its name.

"Anybody Seen My Baby" was a slow, bluesy number, and though the audience response wasn't as strong as it was for the old songs, the fans offered warm applause.

The beat picked up with another new number, "Out of Control," before Jagger and the Stones got back to more oldies with "Miss You." The band also played one of its early numbers, "Little Queenie," written by Chuck Berry, and the Stones classic "Sympathy for the Devil."

The idyllic weather, intergenerational crowd and glimpse of rock 'n' roll history added up to an entertaining evening from a band that refuses to act its age.

"I grew up listening to the Stones, and they're still incredible," said Lisa Moore of Ithaca. "I think Mick Jagger is sexy. He'll still be sexy when he's 75."

Jack Cockerel, 19, had another reason for coming. "My parents are great Stones fans and I've been hearing their music all my life," he said. "I really like them. It's not about age, it's about music."

The Rolling Stones, at this stage, are really about history as much as entertainment. They may no longer be the satanic, street-fighting men of old, but the Stones proved Wednesday in Rich Stadium that rock 'n' roll, like age, is a state of mind.

Toward the end of the two-hour-plus concert, the band dug up another old standard, "The Last Time." Somehow, everyone knew, there will be another time for the Stones.

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