With a wink and a smile, Rod Stewart delivers polished soul at United Center
By Bob Gendron
By Bob Gendron
It takes certain moxie for a 66-year-old man to strut around in an electric purple suit, surround himself with pretty young women and sing "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy." Rod Stewart had nerve to spare Saturday co-headlining with Stevie Nicks at a packed United Center, where he didn't miss any chance to add pomp to campy circumstance. Ignoring his recent Great American Songbook guise for a turn as a dapper nightclub crooner, the British vocalist filled out a 100-minute set with polished renditions of soul standards served up with a wink and a smile.
Stewart made a name for himself decades ago with gritty interpretations of folk and blues. So it's natural that he performed tunes by the likes of Sam Cooke ("Having a Party"), Persuaders ("Some Guys Have All the Luck") and the O'Jays ("Love Train"). Yet along with the sandpaper rasp in his voice, all traces of rawness and poignancy are gone. In their place resides a smooth, soft timbre and humorous flair that suit his showman glitz. Heavily stylized and glossed, it's difficult to tell whether or not Stewart takes himself—or even any of his adult-contemporary ballads—seriously.
With his diamond bracelets, loud sport coats, exaggerated dance moves and visual shtick, he came across as a combination of Las Vegas-era Elvis, Liberace and "Married…With Children" character Al Bundy. A trio if female background singers and three other female instrumentalists, all wearing short dresses, looked loosely modeled after the women in Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video. About the only old-school entertainer cliché Stewart lacked was calling out an assistant to wipe his brow with a handkerchief; he did that himself, and with elaborate effect.
Musical merit aside—Stewart's tame readings of classics such as Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock & Roller" sounded like the sanitized covers of R&B singles that dominated mainstream radio in the late 1950s—at least he had fun. Ironically, the only times Stewart appeared stiff occurred during two duets with opener Nicks. Strictly a crowd-pleasing endeavor, the pair's brief collaboration revealed little chemistry. On Nicks' "Leather and Lace," Rod the Mod seemed to be reading lyrics off a screen.
Nicks' uneven 70-minute set got off to a sleepy start before surprise guest Sheryl Crow joined her for "Sorcerer" and gave the vocalist reason to invest more toughness in the songs. Too bad her mellow nine-piece band never received the message.