WASHINGTON — The Rolling Stones had to wait 30 years for bassist Bill Wyman to finally retire, but his replacement didn't happen a tour too soon. At RFK Stadium on Monday night, with new bassist Darryl Jones, Mick Jagger and company kicked off the "Voodoo Lounge" world expedition playing harder, faster and with a better bottom than they've had in years. How many other grandfathers can say the same?
Where Charlie Watts' economical drumming is the understated key to the Stones' mature rock energy, Wyman was a plodding plunker. Jones, who is a more aggressive, inventive bassist than Wyman, adds meat and muscle to the artful snap of Watts' timekeeping.
With this sloppy but grand return, the Stones have managed an impressive sonic overhaul. Compared to the brake-riding torpor of 1989's "Steel Wheels" tour, the lamest crawl in a career of unhurried concerts, these were speed trials.
In an uninterrupted two hours and 20 minutes, Jagger, Watts, guitar twins Keith Richards and Ron Wood--aided by Jones, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, saxophonist Bobby Keys, three other horn players and two backup singers--blew through more than two dozen songs with the terse, jacked-up energy of concise singles.
Arriving to a thunderous drumbeat and a steady barrage of smoking red flares, the Stones launched into a pumped-up version of "Not Fade Away," the Buddy Holly song that became their first American Top 100 single in 1964. "Undercover of the Night" and "Tumbling Dice" followed, then "Live With Me," in which the murky depth of Jones' bass failed the song's febrile riff and melted it into a dull blur.
The rusty beginning to this not-quite-perfect show didn't matter. Neither did the special effects: a cast of ludicrous, ineffectual inflatables during "Love Is Strong," a pair of costumed stilt-walkers during "Monkey Man" and enough opening and closing fireworks to incinerate a small town.
If Jagger's athletic displays were a notch less athletic than five years ago, the 51-year-old is by no means ready for a wheelchair. More unsettling was the degree to which prominent-in-the-mix backup singers Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer filled out his singing.
"You Got Me Rocking" was the same nothing it is on "Voodoo Lounge," and "Rocks Off" had rough patches in which the beat collapsed, but the new "Sparks Will Fly" was sharp and tight. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was a revelation, a fierce, angry rip through the most familiar song in the band's vast repertoire.
"Beast of Burden" slowed the show down enough to let Jagger (playing piano) slide into a pretty "Memory Motel" and the new album's haunting "Out of Tears," on which he played guitar.
"Hot Stuff" and "Brand New Car" were torpid drones, and a version of the Temptations' (by way of Al Green) "I Can't Get Next to You" was a better idea than reality, but "Honky Tonk Women," "Before They Make Me Run" (sung with typical croaky aplomb by Keith Richards) and "Start Me Up" were impressively propelled by the band's newfound vigor.
Ending with a gratuitous pyrotechnic coda instead of a climactic musical moment, the show's final section (a demobilized "Street Fighting Man," "Brown Sugar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash") didn't lead anywhere but to the exits. But between the heat, the humidity and the exhaustion, it was definitely time to go.