The Rolling Stones, still as dangerous and vital as ever at SoFi Stadium

It’s been a rough month for octogenarians refusing to leave the stage in the U.S. So let’s be grateful that the Rolling Stones still light up stadiums as ferociously as ever.

On Wednesday at SoFi Stadium, the Stones did just what they’ve done for decades: They hit the circuit in support of a new rock and ’n’ roll album, last year’s fresh and riffy “Hackney Diamonds.” They’d have had every right to make this round of shows an affirming nostalgia trip for fans, particularly in the wake of losing beloved drummer Charlie Watts in 2021.

But as America wrestles with a culture ruled by gerontocracy, the Stones refused to be sentimental about anything on Wednesday night. This band is performing at the highest octane, capable of startling and exhilarating moments onstage that have created history instead of pandering to it.

For all the decades of dark glamour and staggering excess, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood still walk onstage to that famously modest introduction — “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones.” Since the Johnson administration, it’s been the most sacred and reliable compact in rock ’n’ roll.

However, with the death of Watts — famed for his cool reserve and jazzy, steadfast style behind the kit — it was fair to wonder how long that deal would hold. Contrary to all evidence so far, the Stones will hang it up someday.

Well, keep waiting. From that klaxon riff of “Start Me Up” to the restless pulse of closer “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the Stones roared and purred like a well-kept Aston Martin, reaffirming the dangerous pleasures of their catalog today as they did in 1964 and will be in 2064.

If you’re in despair about the world, be grateful for this, at least: We’re alive to see the mastery and vigor that Jagger brings to every stage. Those lithe little hip swings, shirt billowing in the night breeze; that perfectly clipped R&B enunciation on “Beast of Burden.” Don’t believe him when he jokes that “our first gig in San Bernardino was so long ago, some of you might think we’d been dug out of the La Brea Tar Pits.” He can still conjure that simmering lustiness just by shoving a microphone through his waistband.

Hold some special regard for Richards too. The most legendarily un-killable Stone was in fine form Wednesday night, using the limits of age to his advantage.

SoFi Stadium has become the set piece for every big pop spectacle of our time, a place where backing tracks are a prerequisite for the razzle-dazzle required. But we maintain that nothing sounds better in that venue than a gained-up, frighteningly loud, teeth-gnashing riff from Richards.

Wood gets all the fretboard acrobatics in the band these days, but when Richards leans into “Midnight Rambler” while Jagger howls about Robert Johnson’s hell hounds, he’s truly touching the flame. That stark, sad minor chord that opens the verses on “Wild Horses” sounded all the more arresting as played by those hands in 2024. When Richards sang “Everyone is asking questions, yeah / I got one too… Is the future all in the past?” on “Tell Me Straight,” you could feel him spitting back at the Reaper.

The hits — “Paint It Black,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Tumbling Dice” — glowed with a geothermal power, age-old yet still searing. The band reveled in what “Honky Tonk Women” can bring out of a lightly sauced crowd, now spanning three generations.

Even the tracks from “Hackney Diamonds” showed how relentlessly the Stones push forward. There’s a reason they looked to young producer Andrew Watt, the boomer-whisperer of contemporary rock, for their first LP of original material since 2005. “Angry” and “Mess It Up” were perfectly calibrated for this moment in the Stones — seething licks and the devil-may-care attitude of a band extremely confident in its resonance.

Much credit is due to the malleable backing band the Stones have recruited. Drummer Steve Jordan inhabited Watts’ style with honor and power, keyboardist Chuck Leavell ripped exquisite piano solos and Chanel Haynes brought Tina Turner-worthy vim to the backing vocals. (So did the War and Treaty’s Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter, who opened the set with regal Southern soul).

Even if we go to the Stones for the crushed velvet and silver jewelry, the sneers and pouts and the communal rituals of stadium rock, the band remains unsatisfied. No maudlin tributes, even to their own. No memory lanes to traverse. Just guitars and the devil, battling it out in the incandescent late years of the best rock band we’ll probably ever get.

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