It was hard to escape the Stones’ famed logo in Santa Clara on Sunday. (Christopher Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Rocks off! Rolling Stones sound great in Santa Clara

No Filter tour serves up classic hits

As the Rolling Stones were nearing the end of their truly satisfying, two-hour concert at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night, Mick Jagger told the capacity crowd that the band’s first visit to the Bay Area was in 1965, and that they’ve done 40 shows here.

“I’ll always remember the smell of the Cow Palace,” he said, as rock’s most classic group rounded out the concert with great versions of “Start Me Up” and “Brown Sugar.”

At 76, having handled his rock-star status for more than half a century, he knows how to treat an audience. He made it a point to touch on local stuff: he knew he was in Santa Clara, mentioned Apple, Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley, the Buena Vista and Irish coffee in San Francisco, thanked the opening band Vista Kicks (from Roseville) and asked if folks came from as far away as Stockton.

He even apologized for postponing this stop on the band’s No Filter Tour. He didn’t mention it was because of a medical issue, and in no way did he look, sound or move like anyone who had a heart valve replaced several months ago. (Admittedly, his strutting was slightly less frenetic than on previous tours; it was simply exhausting to watch him when the Bridges to Babylon Tour hit town in the late 1990s.)

Mostly, though, the show was about the songs. The stadium sound was unusually great, and the English band offered a solid, hit-filled set, starting with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Tumbling Dice” before moving to “Out of Control” (from the aforementioned “Bridges to Babylon” album).

“Rocks Off” was done at the audience’s request, Jagger said, before launching into a sing-along on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

In an “intimate” section of the show at the 50-yard line — “it’s like being in your auntie’s parlor but with more people,” Jagger said — he pulled out a harmonica and, with guitar mates Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and drummer Charlie Watts, played mellower tunes, including “Sweet Virginia” and “Let It Bleed.”

Richards got a few lead vocals — on “You Got the Silver” and the under-rated “Before They Make Me Run” — before the band blasted into full versions of the excellent “Miss You,” featuring bassist Darryl Jones, and the blues rocker “Midnight Rambler,” with more harmonica.

With its awesome, hypnotic, unmistakable opening (though so many Stones’ tunes are terrifically distinctive from the first few notes), “Sympathy for the Devil” got a delicious rendition, with Jagger appearing in a top hat and tailcoat with sparkles. (He changed shirts several times.)

The full band — particularly saxophonist Karl “The Fog” Denson, Jagger called him — sounded great on “Honky Tonk Women” and the sitar-y “Paint It Black.” The group also includes Matt Clifford on keyboard and percussion, Tim Ries on sax and keyboards, Chuck Leavell on vocals and keyboards and Bernard Fowler on vocals and percussion.

Soulful vocalist Sasha Allen got her big moment in the spotlight on perhaps the Stones’ best song, “Gimme Shelter.”

Closing with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the concert exemplified just how great these guys are, and that it’s hard to top the combination of artistry, experience and professionalism — even in rock ‘n’ roll.

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