GEORGIA LINE: Mick Jagger, who turns 81 next month, continues to defy his age on tour. The Rolling Stones’ front man is seen here performing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with guitarist Ronnie Wood and keyboardist Chuck Leavell. (AP Photo)


ATLANTA — The Rolling Stones are still kicking it, which is much better than kicking the bucket, given four band members run in age from 72 to 80 after losing original drummer Charlie Watts three years ago.

The “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” turned in a solid performance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday before a near-capacity crowd, set on a beautiful night in downtown Atlanta. To mark the occasion, the stadium’s retractable roof was open, at the band’s request, one of only five headliners to do so among the 34 concerts held at the building since it opened in 2017, according to stadium spokesperson Heather Sautter.

The Stones’ two-hour show produced the best set list of the tour so far in this reporter’s opinion.

Ten dates into the 2024 Hackney Diamonds Tour, supporting their new record of the same name, the Stones pulled out weathered gems “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Dead Flowers” and “Midnight Rambler” to support must-play hits such as “Gimme Shelter, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women” and “Satisfaction.”

“Sweet Virginia” and “Happy,” a song penned by Keith Richards, were tour debuts. Both were part of the Stones’ masterpiece record, “Exile on Main Street,” released in 1972.

Typically, the Stones throw in three to four wild cards to buttress the string of greatest hits, but on this tour, it seems like they’re reaching back for a greater variety of deep cuts to satisfy longtime fans. Whether that’s an indication that this U.S. tour could truly be “The Last Time,” tied to the name of their 1965 single, is up for debate.

In Atlanta, Richards got the opportunity to play three of his tunes, starting with “Tell Me Straight,” off the Stones’ newest record, leading into “Little T&A,” one of those deeper cuts off the 1981 album “Tattoo You,” and concluding the mini-set with “Happy,” which had been among his staples on past tours.

For the first nine shows, Keef was limited to performing one or two of his songs, so it was noteworthy when he told the crowd, due to “intense pressure” from the band, he was “forced” to play Happy. In turn, the band dropped “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” off the new album, from the set list. Prior to Atlanta, they performed it as part of a two-song encore, ending with “Satisfaction.”

“Blame the guys,” Richards said. No worries, it gave the crowd a chance to see Ronnie Wood’s prowess on steel guitar.

It’s obvious Richards has slowed down a bit as he enters his octogenarian years, but it’s still a treat to see rock’s most indestructible force doing what he loves best, performing live on stage.

KEEF IT UP: Keith Richards may have slowed down a bit on stage, but he remains the Rolling Stones’ heart and soul. (AP Photo)

There were unconfirmed reports that Stones front man Mick Jagger, the group’s elder statesman (five months older than Richards), and who turns 81 next month, may have been feeling under the weather and needed a short break midway through the show, resulting in Keef extending his turn in the spotlight.

However winded Jagger may have been after skipping merrily across the stage for most of the night, it didn’t affect his harp playing abilities three songs later on “Midnight Rambler,” a tour debut. The extended blues jam, this reporter’s favorite Stones track, saw Wood rocking down the runway, cranking his guitar with just the right amount of piercing feedback.

Jagger has always been known to inject some color and context in concert depending on the market.

In Atlanta, it meant poking fun at the Peach State’s political climate. During the portion of the show where the song collecting the most votes on an online fan poll was revealed to the crowd, which the Stones have done since 1997’s “Bridges to Babylon Tour,” a graphic appeared on the video screens, showing “Sweet Virginia” as tallying the most votes.

Mick pointed out, tongue-in-cheek, that the band wanted to play “Wild Horses,” among the four selections up for vote, but it fell 11,000 votes short, a shot at past President Donald Trump’s desperate attempt to overturn Georgia’s 2020 voter turnout in favor of President Joe Biden.

In the Harrah’s Cherokee Club seats, midlevel along the stadium’s north side, Jagger’s quip drew mostly blank stares amid the hoops and hollers of a few patriotic patrons.

Backup singer Chanel Haynes proved her mettle as the newest replacement for Lisa Fischer, who left the Stones tour ensemble in 2018 to focus on a solo career.

On “Gimme Shelter,” Haynes unveiled a nasty impersonation of Tina Turner’s Acid Queen character in The Who’s “Tommy” movie, lending a vicious snarl to her accompaniment to Jagger’s lead vocals as they pranced down the runway on the floor. Her pipes provided a robust tone to the 54-year-old classic composition.

Keyboardist Chuck Leavell, among the “new guys” in the Stones with 44 years in the fold, shined as always on his solo during “Honky Tonk Women,” topping it off with a leg kick to to the piano.

OH ATLANTA: The retractable roof was open for The Rolling Stones, one of only five concerts to do so since Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017. (Don Muret/Staff)

For Leavell, it was a homecoming for the Georgia resident. During the band introductions, Jagger introduced Leavell, “coming all the way from Twiggs County, Georgia,” a community of 8,000 residents just south of Macon, where he joined the Allman Brothers Band for five years prior to joining the Stones in 1982.

Apart from the Stones’ performance, Levy, the stadium’s concessionaire, set up a tasty all-inclusive buffet in the Harrah’s Cherokee Club, providing value for the $445 a person ticket price and where easy access to beer and bathrooms are key amenities. For food and drink, the vendor served Baja fish tacos, pulled pork nachos, buffalo wings, hot dogs, homemade cookies and popcorn and candy bars, plus tap beers from Terrapin Beer Co. of Athens, Georgia.

Frictionless screening procedures, though, continue to run counter to the intended purpose of expediting entrance to the venue. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Evolv Express system in place flagged metal chain straps attached to small, clear purses, an indication that the level of sensitivity was dialed up beyond a sensible degree for technology designed to identify dangerous weapons such as knives and guns without slowing down the entry process.

It’s an issue that extends beyond Atlanta, to NBA and NHL arenas as well, and something that needs to be ironed out as more facilities adopt the technology.

In addition, getting an Uber after the show proved to be a challenge, given the estimated crowd of 50,000 in attendance. There’s really no easy way out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and for those searching for ride share, it was best to walk a few blocks away from the stadium in the midst of street closures for the event.

Officials with AMB Sports and Entertainment are working hard to make ride share a better experience, Sautter said.

Thankfully, on a night with no humidity, a blessing in Atlanta this time of year, made it tolerable for those waiting 45 minutes to one hour for Uber’s arrival.

Hopefully, the inebriated woman who crashed the men’s restroom in the Harrah’s lounge after the show because she couldn’t wait in line to use the women’s facilities, made it home safely. In the process, she spilled her drink on the floor after colliding with a guy coming out of a bathroom stall. Stadium security handled her exit with care.