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Mick And The Boys Take Boston

The Rolling Stones launched a 25-city tour Tuesday night with "Street Fightin' Man" as their first song, as if to say that after 40 years together they're still in fighting shape.

Newly knighted Mick Jagger, grizzled guitarist Keith Richards and the rest of the band have billed their "Licks" tour as their most elaborate stage show ever, with eye-popping special effects.

"There's nothing so exciting as starting an American tour and there is nothing so exciting ... as starting here in Boston," the 59-year-old Jagger told the concertgoers packed into the Fleet Center.

It's the hottest ticket in rock; industry analysts expect it to be the year's top-grossing tour. Most tickets - some selling for up to $350 - were snapped up for the 40-show tour shortly after they went on sale. The band will not only play arenas and stadiums, but cozy concert halls as well.

Tour director Michael Cohl said that like the "Voodoo Lounge" and "Bridges to Babylon" tours of the 1990s, the stadium shows will be heavy on Stones staples such as "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Honky Tonk Woman," and "Brown Sugar."

By contrast, the arena shows - like the one in Boston - will include a large collection of less familiar songs culled from the band's 40-year history.

Tuesday night, the Stones followed their opening number with "If You Can't Rock Me" and "It's Only Rock 'N' Roll," during which Jagger, dressed in tight black pants, shed his blue jacket to reveal a white T-shirt underneath.

During the fourth song, Jagger played guitar on "Don't Stop," one of four new numbers from the Stones' forthcoming album "Forty Licks." The collection of their greatest hits will be released in October.

Belting out 22 songs in two hours, the band dusted off some of its less-well-known tunes like "Stray Cat Blues," "Loving Cup," "Rocks Off" and "Rip This Joint."

But fans got to hear their favorites later on, including "Honky Tonk Women," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Brown Sugar," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Along the way, the band mixed in a cover of the O'Jays' "Love Train" and the pounding blues song "Mannish Boy."

"That was fun. We've never let that one out in public before," Jagger, clad in a dazzling white trench coat and fedora hat, said of "Love Train."

Two hours before the Stones took the stage, crowds of mostly middle-aged fans - some wearing shirts with the Stones' famous lips and tongue emblem - waited for the doors to open.

Steve Mulcahey, 50, a police dispatcher from Warwick, Rhode Island, said the Stones were worth the wait.

Why? "The music and the fact that they can still perform it live onstage," he said, and "the electricity in the air."

This was his 17th Stones concert and Mulcahey plans to attend three others on the current tour.

"I've got the tattoo on my butt. I'm all set," Mulcahey said of the Stones emblem.

Another older fan could hardly contain her excitement. "They're just awesome, they rock! They're never gonna stop."

For many fans, that is the point.

"Look at Mick," said another, "does he move any slower than he did 30 years ago? No!"

While the number 40 might be a theme of the band's tour, the Stones would clearly like to stay clear of discussing another number: 60. That's the age Jagger and Richards will be by the end of next year. The third original member of the band, drummer Charlie Watts, is already 61.

That's no problem for true Stones fans.

"They span the decades," said one.

And maybe they do. A young girl at the Fleet Center Tuesday night was asked what she thinks of the four rockers.

"They're cool," she said, without skipping a beat.