Rolling Stones, Phoenix Concert Theater, Toronto

Start me up! Stones kick off world tour

In the first glimpse of what is to come in their 35-date world tour, they performed an unscheduled hour-long gig to 1,000 fans in Toronto.

The band warmed up with a couple of tunes from their forthcoming album A Bigger Bang, including "Rough Justice", but when Mick Jagger threw off his blazer as they launched into "She's So Cold", they proved that it was still worth queuing for 24 hours - like so many who crowded into the Phoenix Concert Theatre on Wednesday night - to see them.

Despite the three original members' combined age of 185, Sir Mick Jagger has quashed rumours - started by drummer Charlie Watts - that this tour will be a farewell.

"We don't plan that this is the last tour, and we certainly don't announce it," said Sir Mick in May. And if the tour, which takes in South America, the Far East and Europe by summer 2006, gets the same response from the audience as this public rehearsal, they may continue touring for years to come.

Their set included "Sweet Baby Mine", the rarely performed"Dead Flowers", a cover of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up", and ended with "Brown Sugar". Their encore was a lively "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

Justin Orfus, who was in the crowd, could not believe that they would start a giant tour with such an intimate gig.

"It was unbelievable," Mr Orfus said. The greatest rock'n'roll band in a room of 1,000 friends. It was surreal that these gods of rock would descend on such a small venue. People in here need the Stones."

Apparently, the Stones also needed the people. "I'd like to thank everybody in Toronto for being so welcoming to us," Sir Mick, age 61, told the cheering room. "The attention boosted up our egos for the tour." Many said they had heard about the unscheduled concert while hanging around the band's rehearsal spot,a school in north Toronto.

The first official concert will be at the Fenway Park baseball stadium in Boston on 21 August. And the band will release A Bigger Bang, their first studio album in eight years, on 5 September. With 16 tracks, including "This Place is Empty" and "Infamy", it is their longest album since 1972's Exile on Main Street. According to the group, its title reflects "their fascination with the scientific theory about the origin of the universe".

Sir Mick and Keith Richards have been working more closely on A Bigger Bang than they have in years, partly because of Watts' battle with throat cancer.

The tour looks to surpass their Forty Licks world tour in 2003, which played to 3.4 million people and grossed £159m.

"They're old dinosaurs but they're still picking it up," said Al Lalli, a fan in his mid-40s, who saw the old rockers' warm-up. "Younger bands take note."

Rolling all over the world

* The Rolling Stones will play to 1.3 million people on their "Bigger Bang" tour starting on 21 August. The band is thought to have made £ 1.2bn from their past four world tours.

* The Stones staged the two best-attended US concert tours ever: the "Steel Wheels" tour of 1989, which played to 3.1 million fans, followed by the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour, which attracted 2.1 million US fans.

* The band has played 611 shows in five world tours over the past 40 years.

* When the band headlined a Sars benefit in Canada in 2003 they broke the world record for a paying audience at one show, 489,176 people.

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