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Add the easy listening material from Stewart’s five Great American Songbook records of the past decade, and the long-term union of performer and city appears natural, perhaps even destined.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Colosseum — the Caesars Palace showroom where Stewart was playing the first of a probable residency-trial eight shows in two weeks Saturday: The rock god-turned-standards bearer left the Songbook material to the local lounge singers and delivered a straight-ahead pop-rock show with full amenities and no apologies.
Mixing American standards and pop-radio staples in concert certainly would have been tricky to pull off, but fans of both Stewarts had to expect it in Las Vegas. Instead, there was only one of the super-oldies — Cole Porter‘s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” which many in the house might have recognized only from Blazing Saddles — and the rest was a typical Stewart set list of his live standards.
The Vegas response to the Songbook fare clearly was on his mind. “If you like it, give it a cheer at the end,” Stewart said while introducing the Porter number. “If not, you can boo, and we’ll know not to do it again.” There were no jeers afterward but no big cheers either.
One couple, audibly excited as Rod the Moderate intro’d “I Get a Kick,” audibly groused between songs when just his hits kept comin’. But it appeared that most in the sold-out crowd — given to the whisper-alongs typical of its mature demo — were more interested in hearing standards like “Tonight’s the Night” and “Hot Legs” than “Fly Me to the Moon.”
In a broader sense, the Great American Songbook was a recurring theme of the pleasing 90-minute show. The band opened with a Booker T. and the MGs jam that led into the O’Jays nugget “Love Train” and Sam Cooke‘s “Having a Party,” the latter featuring retro ’60s video images. Later, Stewart followed the Porter standard with covers of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock and Roller” and the Ike & Tina Turner arrangement of John Fogerty‘s “Proud Mary.”
The lightly choreographed show wasn’t the splashy-flashy affair that a Vegas semi-residency might have been, but there was a revue feel with as many as 14 performers onstage. A six-piece band — skinny guys in skinny ties — was augmented by four singer-dancers and a three-piece brass section. Two of the horn players wore short, tight dresses, and one, J’Anna Jacoby, became a crowd favorite with her biting violin and mandolin work and Disneyland-parade smile.
Stewart was a generous frontman, allowing each member one or more spotlight solos, including a multi-minute dual-drum workout and an ’80s power-ballad guitar spike during “The First Cut Is the Deepest.”
The pop-hybrid star was playful and in good spirits, though not particularly chatty. “I’ve been told not to do much talking tonight,” Stewart said early on, “because we have a lot of songs.” He did some little dances, patted his fanny, made a few of those old stage-long peacock struts and deployed his crowd-pleasing trademark of launching soccer balls in the crowd.
His vocals were, well, pretty much what you’d expect from an always-raspy-voiced 65-year-old who’s been touring since the Johnson administration. When he cracked during the climactic final line of “Reason to Believe,” Stewart laughed with mock embarrassment.
Late in the show, Stewart said his manager had warned him that he’d be facing “a very tough crowd.” He didn’t. The warm, familiar material — with hits recognizable for a swath of ages 15-75 — was ideal for the Vegas audience that paid $69-$225 a ticket, and it would seem that a Caesars residency is his for the taking.
Stewart probably hasn’t done an audition in 45 years, but he passed this one.
Venue: The Colosseum, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas (Saturday, Nov. 6)
“Having a Party”
“Tonight’s the Night”
“It’s a Heartache”
“Reason to Believe”
“The First Cut Is the Deepest”
“You’re in My Heart”
“I Get a Kick Out of You”
“Sweet Little Rock and Roller”
“Have I Told You Lately”
“Rhythm of My Heart”
“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”
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