At Desert Trip, the Rolling Stones gather no moss

The way Mick Jagger sees it, he with the microphone gets to decide which festival he’s playing.

“It’s great to be here at Coachella!” the Rolling Stones frontman exclaimed minutes into his band’s headlining set Friday night — even though that’s not where he was.

The actual gig was Desert Trip, this weekend’s classic-rock mega-concert featuring the Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and other veteran acts on the same grassy expanse in Indio that hosts the more youth-attuned Coachella fest every year.

But maybe Oldchella, as it’s been jokingly called, felt insufficiently challenging to Jagger. At 73, he wanted to show he can still compete with pop stars and rappers one-third his age.

Mission accomplished.

Moving across the enormous Desert Trip stage in his signature style, Jagger led the Stones through a colorful, energetic two-hour performance that didn’t need fireworks to light up the crowd. (There were fireworks anyway.)

The band opened, as always, with “Start Me Up,” and within seconds Jagger was strutting his stuff down a long runway that jutted onto the floor — a device that Dylan, of course, had completely ignored earlier Friday evening.

While Jagger pranced and pouted, Keith Richards and Ron Wood slashed at their guitars, as bright and crusty through Desert Trip’s high-end sound system as they’ve ever been. Behind them, drummer Charlie Watts kept time with his usual taskmaster’s precision and the band’s touring members added vivid detail on horns, keys and backing vocals.

The set list hit the expected high points: “Tumbling Dice,” with lots of Southern-soul sax; “Honky Tonk Women,” recognizable to the audience by its cowbell intro alone; a taut “Miss You” that felt approximately 25% faster than on record; and “Sympathy for the Devil,” for which Jagger changed into a sparkly red jacket.

Midway through the show, Richards took the mic for two songs from the 1980s: an appealingly ragged “Slipping Away” and the hard-riffing “Little T&A.” The Stones reached back to that decade too for “Mixed Emotions” (from 1989’s “Steel Wheels”), which Jagger said they hadn’t performed in some time.

The band also did “Ride ’Em on Down,” one of the blues tunes it recently recorded for an album due in December.

In spite of Jagger’s aversion to being seen as a dinosaur, that proudly old-fashioned jam proved he knew what festival he was really playing. So did a slinking cover of “Come Together” by the Beatles and a very pretty “Wild Horses,” which was accompanied on a giant video screen by images from the Joshua Tree desert — a reminder, it seemed, of the group’s decades-old dalliance with the late Gram Parsons.

Then again, the Stones encored with two songs about refusing to accept an unwelcome reality: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with some local help from the USC Thornton Chamber Singers, and the inevitable “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

These guys are never gonna retire, are they?

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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