The Rolling Stones Really Might Never Stop

“This song’s for Manhattan!” Mick Jagger told the crowd on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, before launching into a punchy rendition of “Shattered,” that agitated ode to late-70s New York City that closes out the band’s 1978 album “Some Girls.” In the ensuing 46 years, the city has changed in some superficial ways but somehow remained essentially the same — much, as they showed throughout an impressively energetic two-hour set, like the Rolling Stones.

The Stones’ first New York-area stadium gig in five years was sponsored, without a hint of irony, by AARP. It was appropriate: At times what transpired onstage felt not just like a rock concert but a display of the evolutionary marvel that is aging in the 21st century. (Albeit aging while wealthy, with every possible technological and medical advantage at one’s disposal. I’ll have whatever vitamins the Stones are taking, please.)

Ronnie Wood, the core group’s baby at age 76, still shreds on the guitar with a grinning, impish verve. Eighty-year-old and eternally cool Keith Richards pairs his bluesy licks with a humble demeanor that seems to say “I can’t believe I’m still here, either.” And then there is Jagger, who turns 81 a few days after the Hackney Diamonds Tour wraps in July. Six decades into his performing career, he is somehow still the indefatigable dynamo he always was, slithering vertically like a charmed snake, chopping the air as if he’s in a kung fu battle against a swarm of unseen mosquitoes, and, when he needs both hands to dance, which is often, nestling the microphone provocatively above the fly of his pants. Sprinting the length of the stage during a rousing “Honky Tonk Women” — the 13th song in the set! — he conjured no other rock star so much as Benjamin Button, as he seemed to become even more energetic as the night went on.

Jagger, right, was more Benjamin Button than rock singer, our critic writes — somehow becoming even more energetic as the night went on.Credit…Thea Traff for The New York Times

Last year’s “Hackney Diamonds” — the Stones’ first album of new material in nearly two decades — was the nominal reason for the tour, but they didn’t linger on it, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Across 19 songs, they played only three tunes from the latest release, including two of the best: The taut, growly lead single “Angry” and, for the first part of the encore, the gospel-influenced reverie “Sweet Sounds of Heaven.” Mostly it was a kind of truncated greatest hits collection, capturing the band’s long transformation from reverent students of the blues (Richards’ star turn on the tender “You Got the Silver”) to countercultural soothsayers (a singalong-friendly “Sympathy for the Devil”) to corporate rock behemoth (they opened, of course, with “Start Me Up”).

Jagger, Richards and Wood all still emanate a palpable joy for what they are doing onstage. But those joys also feel noticeably personal and siloed, rarely blending to provide much intra-band chemistry. That is likely a preservation strategy — the surest way to keep a well-oiled machine running and to continue sharing the stage with the same people for half a century or more. But when Jagger ended a charming story about a local diner that had named a sandwich after him (“I’ve never had a [expletive] sandwich named after me! I’m very, very proud”), I did not quite buy his assertion that he, Keith and Ronnie were going to go enjoy one together after the show.

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