The death of so many stars in 2016 – from Bowie and Prince to Rick Parfitt and George Michael – makes it all the more imperative that we catch the greats of rock and pop while we still can. One such is Rod Stewart, still touring at a sprightly 72.
It’s tempting to think of the womanising bleached blonde in leopard skin pants who was favourite of ladies of a certain generation and 1970’s footballers, singing songs about home from his tax exile. However there is another Rod we should never forget: one of the great British originals, with his unique gravelly voice wearing his soul, R n B and folk influences on his sleeve, inspiring a host of imitators.
In more GRTR! friendly territory he sang on the Jeff Beck Group albums that were among the very first records that gave birth to heavy rock, while the raunch and roll of the Faces were a huge influence on many bands, in both musical and lifestyle terms. So I felt no need to apologise for attending this, one of two rescheduled shows from November when he cancelled with a throat infection (no ‘how could you tell’ jokes please!)
The set opened with a chequerboard curtain revealing an identically dressed spoof soul revue as Rod paid tribute to Motown with two classics that he made his own in ‘Having A Party’ and ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’.
There was but one song from recent album ‘Another Country’ in ‘Love Is’, a jaunty almost country like jig, with the tartan skirted girl fiddlers and mandolinist having me thinking this is what the Dixie Chicks might sound like if they were from Tayside rather than Texas. He sang ‘Tonight’s The Night’ to a blue stage backdrop of a city silhouette, and it seemed much more effort had been expended on the latter than the only time I saw him previously, adding to the full gig experience.
Surprisingly early in the set ‘Maggie May’ was delivered very faithfully to the original, a bittersweet moment as I had last been singing it at the memorial service last autumn for a friend who had been attending every Rod tour since the seventies. ‘Forever Young’ gave the band more of an opportunity to stretch out, though drum and sax solos were a very obvious cue for a costume change.
For a stereotypical multimillionaire star, Rod still has a very engaging and down-to-earth stage manner and ‘Rhythm Of My Heart’ was dedicated to British troops. It concluded with footage of Rod receiving his knighthood, after which he movingly thanked the support he had received from his parents as a young singer, a lyrical theme continued with the autobiographical ‘Can’t Stop Me Now’: it was good to see this remain in the set from his great comeback album ‘Time’.
He was on great vocal form on a cover of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, while, going back mid-career ‘Baby Jane’ at last got a few ladies to their feet before, perching at the front of the stage with some of his band, ‘Downtown Train’ featured a haunting sax solo from Jimmy Roberts.
An acoustic segment was the perfect showcase for his voice which held up very well all night, thankfully distracting attention from his very garish mustard yellow suit. ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ gave way to ‘Ooh la La’, with thanks to the Faces and even picking out Kenney Jones in the crowd (‘stand up Kenney….oh you are standing’!)
‘You’re In My Heart’ was accompanied by a backdrop of Celtic FC images, wee Jimmy Johnstone et al, and I nudged my partner knowingly as he spoke about the importance of football to his life. ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ was another vocal tour de force and ‘Have I Told You Lately’ with another great sax solo ended perhaps my favourite section of the evening.
While the band played ‘River Deep Mountain High’ as Rod went off for a final costume change, he returned very much in Greatest Hits territory with another identically delivered seventies classic in ‘You Wear It Well’ and during ‘Stay With Me’, his efficient but anonymous band finally allowed to rock out with some tasty slide guitar, Rod was kicking his trademark footballs into the crowd – though such are our modern times that this was preceded by a health and safety warning on the big screen.
‘Sailing’ took on a new almost power ballad like dimension with a long guitar solo, and the band jammed out on ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’, generating more royalties for the composers of the bossa nova tune it lifted from. However despite the party atmosphere on stage and the release of balloons the crowd seemed muted with disappointingly few to their feet, at least where I was sat.
Maybe on the original Saturday date, the crowd would have been livelier. An anti-climactic end also did not help, the chequerboard curtain falling, just short of 2 hours, without a proper encore, other than a brief coda of an unfamiliar song ‘Enjoy Yourself’, or Rod and band saying goodbye.
Personally I would have preferred to see him rock out a little harder, though this was probably a minority view. A night on the town with the bouffant haired lothario, who can never quite believe his luck at living the dream, is still something you should have on your bucket list.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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