Hard Rock Live
February 1, 2008
Longtime fans who bemoaned Rod Stewart’s recent four-album cycle of standards will be relieved to know that Roddy’s stripped his current tour of replays of the great American songbook and returned to singing the kind of songs that earned him his rock ‘n’ roll pedigree. That said, Stewart’s current tour still veers towards a kind of show biz schtick, complete with leggy female back-up singers and an eight member back-up band who look like they were plucked from the pages of a South Beach glamour magazine, complete with matching outfits, perfectly coiffed hair and a look that’s more about model than mod. So too, at age 63, Stewart’s no slacker either, his one-time rooster-cropped locks now perfectly styled in such a way as to make Bon Jovi blush with envy. Add his dapper stage moves and a voice that’s mellowed into less of a rasp and more of a honey-smooth croon and indeed, Stewart seems to have eased into his maturity rather well.
Still, there will always be those who long for the rowdy Rod of old, the rocker raconteur who, with his old mates the Faces, was among the most raucous freewheeling acts of the Seventies, an era that had mostly found Rock emasculated by disco. It was a fate that Stewart himself eventually succumbed to with a pair of numbingly awful hits, “Hot Legs” and “D'Ya Think I’m Sexy,” both of which were reprised at the Hard Rock, serving to remind some of us of the regrettable depths to which his career once sunk. At very least, they made those MOR oldies seem vastly more appealing by comparison. Of course the fans ate it up, including my adorable wife Alisa who was dancing like a dervish in the aisles along with the other loyal minions. In fact, there was ample opportunity to boogie away, thanks to a set list that included replays of R&B standards “Twisting The Night Away” and “Having A Party,” songs that made his personal hit parade long before he reinvented himself as a singer of standards.
To set the record straight – no pun intended – covers have been an integral part of Rod’s repertoire since the very beginning of his now 40-year plus career, from early on as part of the Jeff Beck Group when he warbled the venerable folk classic “Morning Dew” through to a career that counted several of his current show’s offerings – “Reason To Believe,” “Have I Told You Lately,” “Sailing” and “Downtown Train” – as solo staples. In fact, ask most people and they’ll probably tell you that they’re unaware of the originals, which is complement indeed for Stewart’s interpretative skills.
Still, one can’t help but get the feeling that these days Rod’s become little more than one of those human jukeboxes only intent on mining rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia. That’s evidenced by his latest disc, which finds him shifting his gaze from standards of the Thirties and Forties to well-hashed rock radio hits of the Seventies and Eighties. Three made the set list Friday night – “It’s A Heartache” (originally sung by fellow Scot Bonnie Tyler, whose croak and caress obviously owed much to Roddy’s rasp), Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” and John Fogerty’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” Admittedly, these tunes makes a seamless transition under the guise of the Stewart’s style, but even so, one can’t help but think there’s something disingenuous about a veteran rocker trumping oldie goldies. Certainly at $100 - $300 a ticket, Rod’s own back catalog could have been better represented, perhaps with something representing the Faces or Beck songbooks. Sure, the aforementioned hits were there, along with obligatory takes on “Tonight’s The Night,” “Forever Young,” “Maggie May” and “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” which, given Stewart’s foppish appeal, becomes an apt signature song. What’s more, the careful choreography, a middle break that allowed Rod to vacate the stage while his back-up singers traded licks on “Piece of My Heart,” and a seeming lack of spontaneity (interrupted only when Stewart started gasping after claiming to have swallowed a bug) makes the current tour seem more revue than rock show. A brief film clip showing a rambunctious Rod and the Faces in full flight served to further deepen the divide between Roddy the rocker and Stewart the savant.
Of course, given the choice between, say, Mick Jagger who still pouts and prances trying to stay relevant well past his prime and Rod Stewart, who’s settled into maturity with stylish sophistication, one tends to feel less embarrassed for the latter. And lest there be any doubt, Rod is a terrific entertainer, emitting both class and charisma. Perhaps the complaint about his acquiescing to old age has more to do with his audience’s own futile desires to see their heroes -- and themselves -- as eternal twentysomethings destined indeed to remain forever young. -- Lee Zimmerman
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Personal bias: As far as I’m concerned, Rod will always rule. I had the privilege of meeting him at his home in London early on. His gal pal made us breakfast, we swapped stories about the Faces’ gig at the old Pirate’s World and then Rod drove me to the train station in his Lamborghini. Tallk about a memory…
Random detail: Rod’s stage gear is always sharp, but truth be told, the sparkle designs on his trousers are less becoming than his boa scarves of old.
By the way: Both of the girls in his band – playing saxophone and fiddle/mandolin, respectively -- possess the musical chops to match their drop-dead gorgeous looks. Kudos to Rod for giving the guys something to affix their gaze to.