This could be the last time.

May be the last time.

I don't know.

That mid-'60s Rolling Stone refrain seemed to haunt the band's final concert at the Capital Centre last night. For some, the very thought that this could really be the last time the Stones perform in the Washington area raised already high expectations to a feverish level. And if the Stones' performance didn't always meet those expectations, at least it succeeded more often than not.

The most striking thing about the concert in the early going was the surprisingly crisp sound quality. The volume was kept at a reasonable level, and while nothing short of fresh arrangements could have helped Bobby Womack's tiresome opening set, it enhanced the Stones' performance immensely.

Though they arrived late, it was clear from the start that the Stones came to play. Mick Jagger not only looked like his old self -- in a loosely fitting pink suit, yellow T-shirt and white shoes -- he sounded like it See STONES, B8, Col. 1 STONES, From B1 as well. At first he pranced around the circular stage, stopping occasionally to pose suggestively, while limbering up with a big booming version of "Under My Thumb." Then he quickly focused his still-awesome energy at the front of the stage with several powerful rockers, including "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Neighbors." Throughout, Keith Richards' guitar lines were sharply defined, Charlie Watts' drumming was rock steady and provided momentum to spare. Ernie Watts' saxophone breaks gave the music a brassy R&B edge. That was especially true of "Just My Imagination" and "Waiting on a Friend."

Still some songs simply didn't gel. Since the tour began, the Stones have been adding and dropping songs, and a couple of cover versions they included last night -- Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and Smokey Robinson's "Going to A Go-Go" -- were flat and unadventurous interpretations.

And apparently not everyone enjoyed Jagger's theatrics, though he was in excellent voice and seldom clowned around at the expense of his songs. It's hard to say just what prompted a few people to pepper a corner of the stage with popcorn at one point, but Jagger was clearly not amused and told them as much.

Even that brief episode, though, didn't inhibit Jagger's performance or prevent him from singing at the peak of his powers for most of the evening. Time may not be on their side as it once was, but the Stones are still capable of delivering some top-flight rock 'n' roll. "Hope to see you next year," Jagger shouted after thousands of balloons rained down on the crowd during the "Can't Get No Satisfaction" encore. Outside, one person was trying to sell tickets for $10.