There was a moment at the start of the Rolling Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" concert on Sunday at Dodger Stadium so startling that you could almost hear a collective gasp from the mostly over-45 crowd.
Even if you had seen photos of the band recently or attended one of its earlier stadium tours, you weren't prepared for the age that showed in the faces of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood the first time they were shown on the massive video screen behind the stage.
When listening to the band on record, it's still easy to imagine yourself and the group back in the '60s and '70s, when they helped define the notion of youthful rebellion in rock 'n' roll.
But the images on the video screen served as a slap in the face--a reminder that the Stones are in their 50s, long past the expected age for a rock band.
For a minute, you probably even felt foolish for thinking this group could still stir you.
So it was fascinating over the next two hours-plus to watch the Stones work masterfully to build their '90s credibility.
The band confronted the age issue right away by opening with one of its early, teen-oriented hits, "Satisfaction," and following two songs later with another, "Let's Spend the Night Together."
During the latter, the live shots of the band on the video screen were in black-and-white, rather than the normal color. As on the band's 1994 "Voodoo Lounge" tour, this gave the illusion of the Stones' stepping back in time to when the songs were new--and it worked because the music still sounded so good.
Things were moving so well that Jagger, who tends to limit his comments between songs to an occasional how-ya-doin', even made a playful aside about all the celebrities backstage.
"We thought we were going to have to turn the stage around and play to them," he said with a wink.
The band then turned to the first of four songs that Jagger sang from the current "Bridges to Babylon" album. While the upbeat "Flip the Switch" seemed simply generic, the group played it with a determination that was winning.
After "Switch," the Stones, like a boxer sensing the right moment, threw the first of the evening's knockout punches. Returning to the '60s, the group this time focused on one of its most substantial numbers.
"Gimme Shelter" was one of the late-'60s songs that helped define the group's artistry by exploring subject matter as challenging--and often a touch forbidden--as that of the early bluesmen who first influenced them.
With Lisa Fischer handling superbly the memorable, mocking vocal done by Merry Clayton on the recording, Jagger sang the anxious tune with a raw, gripping intensity that set the tone for the rest of the night.
The Stones--backed by Darryl Jones on bass, Chuck Leavell on keyboards plus three backup singers and a four-piece brass section--still play with a captivating commitment and style. The "Bridges" tour may have one of the flashiest sets ever in rock, but the group doesn't let it become the show.
The weakness in the Stones is the lack of revelation in the new material. Of the "Bridges" album tunes played, only "Saint of Me" had any sense of ambition or mystery.
Wisely, however, the band was never far from its musical mother lode, serving up "Under My Thumb," "Bitch" and "Miss You" before walking across a steel bridge, which stretches out before your eyes, from the main stage to a small stage in the center of the stadium floor.
The key moment in the intimate, well-received segment was during "The Last Time." When Jagger sang the song's chorus, it seemed like a referendum. And the answer was clear: No, you didn't want this to be the last time around for this classic band.
If anyone hesitated with the answer, the Rolling Stones--who were also scheduled to play Dodger Stadium on Monday (along with the Wallflowers, who opened for them Sunday and have been reviewed recently) and are due in San Diego in February--surely shattered any lingering resistance when they returned to the main stage for a greatest-hits segment. It included such rock 'n' roll works of art as "Sympathy for the Devil," "Tumbling Dice" and "Honky Tonk Women."
Against all odds, the Stones continue to roll.