Music Preview: Hot Rod keeps rocking even without the creative spark
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When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $52.50 to $95; 412-323-1919.
So, you're deciding whether or not to take a chance on Rod Stewart, uncertain if it's going to be the Hot Rod of "Stay With Me" or the Not-So-Hot Rod of "Still the Same: Great Classics of Our Time."
The answer is that his concert Saturday night at the Mellon Arena -- his first here in six years -- is going to be a little of both, with some "Hot Legs" in between.
The 62-year-old Stewart is on the road, having just released his fifth straight volume of covers, a series that has made him relevant once again on the charts while further chipping away at the reputation he built in the late '60s/early '70s with the Jeff Beck Group, The Faces and such great solo records as "Gasoline Alley" and "Every Picture Tells a Story."
When Johnny Cash went on a cover binge, we knew it was because he was about to leave us, and that dying baritone changed the meaning of the songs. What earthly reason does Rod Stewart have to be covering "Love Hurts," "If Not for You" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," songs that were getting along just fine without him?
We can't ask him because he's not making himself available for interviews. But he did talk to MSN.com after the release of the new record and told them, "Most of the songs, apart from two, were recorded in the '70s and all sung by great singers like Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Tyler, [John] Fogerty. ... The attitude that I took from doing the 'American Songbook' is that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants and that I just wanted to bring something else to the table -- a twist and turn of the phrase, things like that."
(One should not overlook the company in which Bonnie Tyler is mentioned, but we digress.)
Stewart added, "We definitely knew that we didn't want to do 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Brown Sugar' or songs like that. They didn't need redoing," suggesting that the Nazareth, Dylan, Fogerty and George Harrison versions of those songs weren't quite up to snuff.
And what does this say about covering Sinatra on "It Had To Be You"? Surely, Sinatra didn't need a redo -- from Rod Stewart.
But, OK, good songs are good songs, and Stewart wants to put his touch on them. On the fifth one, though, which came out in October, he doesn't even sound all that engaged anymore. He was always a great interpreter of songs -- The Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" being the shining example -- but a lot of the recent covers are just karaoke.
Stewart went on to tell MSN that it's been about four years since he wrote his own songs and pointed out the futility of even trying. "Paul Simon, Elton John, the Rolling Stones have all penned their new records, and all the critics loved them, but they just didn't sell."
Fortunately, those artists didn't take that as a reason not to generate new material of their own, and the same goes for fellow Hall of Famers like Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, Seger and John Mellencamp, whose records did sell. Of course, Stewart, given to day-glo jackets, has always been more of pop star than those guys, so the drive and inspiration to create isn't going to be the same.
"Rod seems to have dedicated his entire career to having fun," says Doug Mosurak, a critic for Dusted. "Fortunately for him, millions of people have agreed with that concept, and the image he puts forth. Never has he tried to be topical or serious like Billy Joel or profound like Elton John. Never has he made a double album. If you treat Rod with that sort of understanding, his work becomes a lot more tolerable, and in some cases, really enjoyable."
What Stewart has going for him that those other heavies don't -- not that Springsteen needs it -- is a fan base of middle-aged women willing to pay $95 to see him prance around in tights.
His best asset, that raspy voice, is no worse for the wear. The Boston Globe wrote about a recent show, "Although he now often takes the low road where he once shot for the high, his famous whiskey and gravel croon was in strong form and his spirits were high ..."
The Boston Herald agreed, saying, "It's undeniable; he's lost a step -- maybe two -- but he's got plenty left. For 50 minutes he swaggered through his biggest '70s and '80s hits...."
Stewart modestly shrugs off the fan reaction, recently telling the New York Post, "I look at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and I don't get it -- but I'm glad they do." (How could he forget that "there's no time for feeling inferior/standing in front of your mirror"?)
Although Stewart may not have changed much on stage, he's a different man off of it. These days, he isn't plucking blondes from the front rows for a backstage rendezvous. This summer he plans to tie the knot, for the third time, with 35-year-old model Penny Lancaster, with whom he has a 1-year-old son (his seventh kid).
They hope to add at least one more to the family.
This is good news. With two little ones in diapers, and that fountain of hair to maintain, he'll be too busy to add to the "Great American Songbook."
ROD STEWART'S HIGHLIGHTS
Jan. 10, 1945: Roderick David Stewart, the youngest of five, born to Scottish parents in London. Hair is sticking straight up (just a guess).
1964: Releases debut single "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl."
1966: Joins the Jeff Beck Group, and stays with them for two albums, through 1969.
1969: Joins The Faces, with Ronnie Wood, while also releasing solo debut, "The Rod Stewart Album."
1970: The Faces release "First Step," while Stewart releases "Gasoline Alley."
1971: "Every Picture Tells a Story," featuring "Maggie May," is the first album to hit No. 1 in the United States and Great Britain simultaneously.
1972: Solo success continues with "Never a Dull Moment," featuring "You Wear it Well."
1975: The Faces split. Chuck Berry hears "Sweet Little Rock and Roller" and says, "Is this a white guy? You are kidding me!"
1976: "A Night on the Town" hits No. 2.
1979: Marries Alana Hamilton and scores No. 1 disco hit with "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."
1980: "Foolish Behavior" begins string of hit '80s albums.
1983: Following divorce, he hooks up with model Kelly Emberg.
1990: Marries model Rachel Hunter and stays with her for 16 years.
1993: Records hit "MTV Unplugged" album with Ronnie Wood joining him.
1994: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Beck.
1998: Begins ongoing relationship with Penny Lancaster.
1999: Has successful surgery for thyroid cancer.
2002: "It Had to Be You ... The Great American Songbook," hits No. 4 on the chart.
2004: "Stardust ... The Great American Songbook 3" is his first No. 1 album in 25 years.
2005: Wins first Grammy for "Stardust."
2006: "Still the Same ... Great Rock Classics of Our Time" debuts at No. 1.
-- Scott Mervis
First Published February 15, 2007 12:00 am