Friday, March 25, 2011

NICKS AND STEWART REVIEW - ATLANTA... Venerable duo dazzled during their respective sets

Stewart and Nicks a perfect pair — apart
by Melissa Ruggieri

It turns out that the interesting-yet-odd pairing of Stevie Nicks and Rod Stewart is more odd than interesting.

Separately, they’re terrific.

Together? Meh.

At Thursday night’s Philips Arena show – only the second date of the “Heart and Soul” tour after the kickoff in Fort Lauderdale was scotched Sunday due to Stewart “having the flu” – the venerable duo dazzled during their respective sets.

At 7:28 p.m., Stewart waltzed out on stage in his best boat captain getup to introduce “one of the truly great, iconic voices of rock ‘n’ roll…and I’m not talking about myself.”

Unfortunately for Nicks, whom he was talking about, the arena was about half-filled at that point, with many fans likely assuming that a 7:30 ticket meant an 8 p.m. or later start. When was the last time you attended a rock concert that started on time?

But Nicks, in her trademark layers of black ruffles and sequins, was undeterred as she barreled through a muddy “Fall From Grace” and a much cleaner-sounding “Secret Love,” the dreamy new single from her upcoming May release.

A seven-piece band and her two longtime backup singers sizzled with Nicks through a well-balanced set that started languidly, hit a sustained peak and ended with Nicks-ian introspection.

Fans of her solo work and Fleetwood Mac couldn’t have been disappointed with a song selection that included “If Anyone Falls,” “Sorcerer,” “Gold Dust Woman” and “Stand Back.”

And since Nicks hasn’t exactly been a mobile performer for years, it was especially gratifying to watch her gamely twirl through segments of “Stand Back,” a gesture that sent the Nicks groupies in the crowd to a new level of screeching.

Her distinctive bray of a voice veered from haunting (“Rihannon”) to gritty (“Edge of Seventeen”), and, as taut as her band was, the best moments came with Nicks backed by a single instrument.

”I hope this song brings you some peace and love,” she said as an introduction to “Landslide,” a truly timeless ballad that continues to reach fresh generations thanks to its numerous cover versions (hello, “Glee”).

As an array of family photos floated on the video screen behind her, including many from her early Mac days and even more with her father, Nicks crooned the sentimental lyrics, coloring the “I’m getting older, too” line with the perfect dab of wisdom.

Though she may be (unbelievably) in her 60s, not much has changed about her, from her hairstyle to her voice to her festooned mic stand.

The same can be said of Stewart, except substitute his spastic dance moves for a decorated mic stand.

Those are the elements that make sense about this pairing.

After a brief intermission following Nicks’ 75-minute set, Stewart and his nattily attired nine-piece band and trio of female backup singers arrived on a stage that looked more like a headliner’s platform compared to Nicks’ sparsely decorated playing field.

With a gleaming, two-tier white stage dotted with lights perched on columns behind him, Stewart, 66, instantly projected a party vibe by bopping and sliding across the stage for the opening “Love Train.”

Hard to believe he was laid up with the flu four days earlier given his extreme activity. Though midway through the 90-minute set, the perpetually hoarse-sounding singer pulled out a handkerchief to blow his nose and apologized for missing some of the notes on “Reason to Believe,” attributing the gaffe to his recent illness.

But first, those duets.

Pairing like-minded or audience-sharing acts on the same bill isn’t a novelty – half of the summer shed tours are stocked with ‘70s and ‘80s throwbacks who fit that description.

But they rarely share a stage.

The gimmick here was to see how well these two rock vets would gel and, as about 15,000 audience members learned…not too well.

Nicks returned to the stage – in black leggings instead of a dress! – and Stewart mentioned that the two songs they would sing were her choices.

“Passion” immediately sounded like a mistake (why, Stevie, why?) with raspy, half-sung lyrics, but “Young Turks,” while spirited, was the bigger train wreck.

Neither seemed completely sure who was handling which lines and watching Nicks awkwardly stand still as Stewart engaged in his usual frisky-lad skittering around the stage made you want to give her a hug. At least Stewart’s backup singers finally rescued Nicks, coming over to sing and engage her in some simple choreography.

Despite their similar vocal tones, nothing clicked between them harmonically, either.

With that obligatory moment out of the way, Stewart, who remains a pre-eminent showman, dove into “The First Cut is the Deepest” – which he’s really made into his own over the years – and Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.”

The wonderfully watchable Stewart is such a jitterbug, he nearly propelled himself off the stool he was sitting on for the ballad from pumping his feet so hard.

After getting a bit vocally foggy on “You Wear It Well” and “Reason,” Stewart, who left the stage several times to change into different vibrantly colored suits or jackets, soared again on “You’re in My Heart” and “Have I Told You Lately.”

And when the time came for “Hot Legs,” performed with record precision, out came the soccer (er, foot) balls, which Stewart enthusiastically booted into the crowd.

No doubt, fans received a comprehensive night of music from two of rock’s biggest hit machines. But better to keep those hits separated.

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