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While the last few Stones concerts have always been accompanied by speculation as to whether "this could be the last time," the best thing you could say about the current jaunt is it doesn’t inspire thoughts of the end, but of the future.

STONES ROCK AND ROLE-PLAY

Stones’ Staples Center Show Delves Into Classic Songbook, but Also Features Little-Heard Gems
The Rolling Stones rocked L.A.’s Staples Center on the current leg of their Licks tour with a 21-song, two-hour set that included four cuts from Exile on Main Street and a two-tune Keith Richards mini-set.

The Staples show is one of three the band is doing in L.A., with appearances at Edison Field in Anaheim Saturday night (11/2) and the hottest ticket in town, the 2,000-capacity Wiltern on Monday (11/4).

The show starts out a little wobbly, as the Stones state their raison d’etre on the quartet of tunes that opens the concert. "What can a poor boy do, but sing in a rock & roll band?" asks Mick Jagger, celebrating Halloween in Clockwork Orange derby and long-nosed mask on "Street Fighting Man" before seguing into "It’s Only Rock & Roll," "If You Can’t Rock Me" (answered in the affirmative with "You Got Me Rocking" later in the show) and "Don’t Stop," a fairly generic Stones exercise from the Forty Licks album that was the one new song the group played.

Things really kick in with "Monkey Man," featuring Chuck Leavell’s chilling piano run and Jagger ambling across the stage dangling his arms like a simian, followed by the Robert Johnson blues classic, "Love in Vain," highlighted by Ron Wood’s exquisite lap slide runs. Wood and Richards’ guitar antics amuse throughout, while the white-haired drummer inspires the classic rejoinder, "Charlie’s alright tonight, innie?" Watts grins like a Cheshire cat, breathing through his nose as his nostrils pinch together.

As they launch into the Exile material, the six-piece core of the band (including longtime bassist Darryl Jones) is joined by singer Lisa Fisher, instrumentalists Bernard Fowler and Blondie Chaplin and a four-piece horn section fronted by veteran Stones saxist Bobby Keys. Some fans have complained about the absence of songs like "Gimme Shelter" and "Sympathy for the Devil," but hearing "Loving Cup," "Rocks Off," "Rip This Joint" and "Tumbling Dice" is a rare treat, as Jagger exhorts the crowd like a hyperactive exercise instructor.

The soul of the Stones is, of course, Keith, so you won’t hear me quibble with him taking the mike for two of his signature numbers about the will to survive in "Slipping Away" and "Before They Make Me Run," testaments to a life lived in pursuit of rock & roll.

Then, it’s "Start Me Up," into a rousing version of the O’Jays’ "Love Train" and an epic "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking," whose high points include a Santana-like guitar solo by Woody and the famous Keys sax solo. They follow it with the sizzling one-two punch of "Honky Tonk Woman" (featuring an animated naked girl writhing on top of the band’s tongue logo) and an incendiary "Satisfaction," an old chestnut the group tears into like it’s the first time they’ve ever played it.

The Stones saunter down a platform through the middle of the crowd to an ancillary stage, where they roar through Muddy Waters’s "Mannish Boy," "You Got Me Rocking" (off Voodoo Lounge) and "Brown Sugar" (Keys again) before returning to the main stage for an encore of "Jumping Jack Flash."

The crowd roars as Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie take their bows, living up to their billing as the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. If the current concert tour is more about celebrating the legacy than offering up any real surprises, it still holds some rare treats for longtime fans. And if there’s some kvetching over the high price of tickets, you’re still seeing a state-of-the-art rock concert by a world-class band. While the last few Stones concerts have always been accompanied by speculation as to whether "this could be the last time," the best thing you could say about the current jaunt is it doesn’t inspire thoughts of the end, but of the future.

Like the bluesmasters they’ve patterned themselves after, the Stones appear to be entering the prime of their musical lives.

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