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The endlessly fascinating relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is integral to the prosperity of any endeavour by the Rolling Stones. Thus the beginning of the 2005-06 season finds their team in brisk health. In an interview last month, Richards told me the pair were enjoying their closest working partnership in years and that his fellow Stone had been very "simpático" of late. In the context of the ice age of the mid-1980s that almost destroyed the group, and some distant writing collaborations since, the compliment is significant. The result, released in two weeks' time, is A Bigger Bang, uncoincidentally the Stones' best album since 1978's Some Girls. The album sessions also

became a celebration of the return to health of drummer Charlie Watts after a skirmish with cancer.

Spirits thus refuelled, the old devils can hardly be begrudged the run in the sun of another juggernaut world tour, which opened on Sunday at the home of the Boston Red Sox and is likely to extend well into the second half of 2006.

Its unique selling point comes in the idea of a section of the audience being on stage, a concept developed by Jagger and Watts with set designer Mark Fisher. Three-tiered blocks of executive boxes fanned out elegantly above and either side of the main performance space, and we were told that one couple had paid $5,800 for two such tickets. They gazed down upon a characteristically high-octane performance mustered from deep in the soul of the ultimate stadium rock band, from the opening "Start Me Up" to "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" 135 minutes later.

The repertoire included four new songs, one of which, "Oh No, Not You Again", was performed on their now-traditional "second stage" out among the stadium crowd. The trick this time is that the construction is actually the central part of the existing stage, motorised so that it can move into a new position some 30 yards out, even as the band continue to play as if performing on a float in a carnival procession.

It was a metaphor for the breathtaking showmanship of a group of founding fathers of contemporary rock, ever imitated but never usurped.

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