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Rod Stewart Delivers the Hits at Madison Square Garden: Concert Review

Rod Stewart New York City - H 2013
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The Bottom Line

The perfect pairing of Rod Stewart and Steve Winwood makes for a terrific evening of classic rock.

Venue

Madison Square Garden
New York City
(Monday, Dec. 9)

The rocker entertains a New York crowd with a career-spanning concert.

He may have started off with “This Old Heart of Mine” but Rod Stewart proved that he’s “Forever Young” in his concert on Monday night at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. The venerable rocker showcased every aspect of his stylistically diverse, decades-long career in a two-hour show that well demonstrated the reasons for his musical longevity. Add to that a similarly terrific career-spanning opening set by Steve Winwood and you had an evening guaranteed to please baby boomers with deep pockets.

Sporting the still-trim figure that he sings about maintaining on his recent album Time -- his first release of original material in many a moon -- Stewart, bounding onstage in a shiny silver suit, is clearly intent on “Having a Party,” as his Sam Cooke cover would have it. He displayed a genteel courtliness throughout, apologizing to the crowd for having had to delay the concert for several months and promising to make it up to them.

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And that he did, delivering a 21-song set that included a generous selection of hits, even the cheesiest of which were delivered with a winning combination of conviction and winking humor. Ever eager to please, he refrained from dipping extensively into the recent album, featuring only two new songs. But they were choice: the highly personal ballad “Brighton Beach,” about a love affair he had when he was just 18 -- “We had a daughter … she’s 50 now,” he said ruefully during his introduction and the peppy rocker “Can’t Stop Me Now.”

He dutifully performed the hits: “You Wear It Well,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim),” “Maggie May” and the Faces’ “Stay With Me” among them. But he seemed most energized performing cover versions of such classics as Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” displaying his most impassioned vocal performance of the evening on the latter.

His raspy voice is miraculously intact, faltering only slightly on the higher notes. And at age 68, his lithe physicality remains equally undiminished, as demonstrated by his athletic kicking of personally autographed soccer balls into the crowd while belting out “Hot Legs.”

Ever the proud papa, he brought out his 26-year-old daughter Ruby to sing a solo number, the impassioned R&B ballad “Just One More Day,” in which she proved that she’s inherited her father’s pipes. The two also dueted on “Forever Young,” during which a mid-song percussion break allowed him to take a break for one of his several costume changes.

The show’s visuals were carefully thought out. The gleaming white stage platform was framed by giant video screens displaying entertaining archival footage, while the male band members were clad in sharp black suits and the female players and backup singers, all of whom happened to be gorgeous, were outfitted in short, spangly dresses.

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A mid-show acoustic set was a highlight, with Stewart, accompanied by a string section and harpist, delivering soulful versions of such classics as “The First Cut is the Deepest,” “Have I Told You Lately” and, in a nod to the season, a tender “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The inevitable encore of one of his biggest hits was amusingly introduced by a self-deprecating projection of a years-old quote by Stewart from a Rolling Stone interview in which he declared, “I don’t want to be singing ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ when I’m 50 and become a parody of myself.” Accompanied by the dropping of thousands of balloons onto the crowd, the moment did live up to his observation. But no one, least of all Stewart himself, seemed to mind.

Winwood’s opening set was as modest as the headliner’s was ostentatious, but it had maximum musical impact.  He and his superb four-piece band performed only eight songs in the course of an hour, but practically each one was a classic, including hits from the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith, Traffic and his solo career. Allowing each number to breathe with jazz/funk arrangements featuring extended instrumental interludes, including a brilliant guitar solo by Winwood on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” it served as an effective primer on ‘60s and ‘70s era British rock.  

Set List

Steve Winwood

Secrets
I’m a Man
Can’t Find My Way Home
Dirty City
Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Higher Love
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Gimme Some Lovin’

Rod Stewart

This Old Heart of Mine
Having a Party
You Wear It Well
Stay With Me
Tonight’s the Night
Some Guys Have All the Luck
Rhythm of My Heart
Just One More Day
Forever Young
The First Cut is the Deepest
Brighton Beach
Have I Told You Lately
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Can’t Stop Me Now
Sweet Little Rock & Roller
I’d Rather Go Blind
Proud Mary
You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
Hot Legs
Maggie May
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy