Sometime this week Keith Richards may sidle up to Mick Jagger to discuss whether the Rolling Stones will play their cover of Don Covay's Mercy, Mercy at FedEx Field in Washington DC.
That may not seem like a big deal, unless you consider that for the 3198 times Jagger and Richards have played Jumpin' Jack Flash, Brown Sugar and (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Covay's soul classic has been tabled — ever since the group's free gig in London's Hyde Park on July 5, 1969.
"The main thing is you haven't played it for 50 years," says Richards. "So I'm just looking for the opportunity on the set list to say to Mick, 'Hey, today how about Mercy?"
It has been a slightly rough road to this week's date, the fourth of 17 on the second leg of the band's No Filter tour. Jagger's recent heart surgery pushed the concerts back from an April start, and also brought Richards a moment of contemplating a life without his compatriots — a reality, the 75-year-old says, "you kind of always know that could be coming".
But a series of Instagram posts made it clear Jagger would be back, and he wouldn't be gyrating from behind a walker. On June 21, at Chicago's Soldier Field, the band — featuring core members Ron Wood and Richards on guitar and Charlie Watts on drums, as well as touring bassist Darryl Jones — played 20 songs, a concert bookended by Street Fighting Man and Satisfaction.
"As Ronnie and I often say to each other, let's go onstage and get some peace and quiet," Richards says.
There have been some changes over the years. Richards is off the hard stuff and, as the Daily Mail saw fit to print, he has ditched his bandanna and given his hair a slight brownish tint. But that doesn't mean the onetime serial consumer heads to a Pilates class after soundcheck. He gets his exercise onstage.
"I have a beer occasionally, and that's about it," Richards says. "I live a normal life without being too preoccupied about my health. I find that what I do as a job actually is enough."
He pauses and gives that Keef cackle, a laugh that falls somewhere between a pirate and a prep-school prankster. "As you know, I'm different from a lot of people," Richards says.
So is the band. The how-long-will-they-do-it narrative, birthed in the late 80s, has given way to you-better-see-it-while-it's-still-awfully-good.
Richards estimates the Stones worked up about 50 songs for the tour. There is also an acoustic set part-way through — the only real concession to slowing down, he says.
It has been 14 years since A Bigger Bang, the last studio album of original songs. Richards says that in February, the Stones recorded at least five new songs with producer Don Was. They are likely to finish the album, which would be their 31st, this year.
A week in, there also haven't been any media-fuelled blowups between Richards and Jagger. "People only hear about the conflicts ... The other 99.9 per cent of the time, Mick and I are very close friends and have grown closer the older we get."
He laughs. "We are the only ones we know who are still alive."