Graham Reid | | 6 min read
In this Age of Bitterness And Rage where many people take themselves far too seriously (expecting other to do the same) and humour seems in short supply, it's encouraging to know that 78-year old Sir Rod Stewart is still out there enjoying himself and bring happiness to others.
As he wrote in his hilarious autobiography published more than a decade ago, “I never thought . . . the 'being a rock star' aspect of being a rock star was beside the point, or even something I needed to apologise for.
“If I hadn't considered the drinking/shagging/carrying-on to be at least part of my terms of employment . . . I would have felt I was letting down the union.”
Sir Rod's crimes for a cabal of pursed-lip critics are manifest: too many blondes, too much laughter in the serious business of rock'n'soul, and of course betraying his gift in lesser songs.
But for every Do Ya Think I'm Sexy (which he always pointed out was sung by a character, not him) and Hot Legs there was the moving The Killing of Georgie (timely right now), the ache of Handbags and Gladrags and many more.
What some have forgotten – and Rod himself perhaps – is that he was not just a great interpreter of a lyric but also a fine songwriter himself.
But those days are long gone and today he is taking the last laps on his The Hits tour to bring those of his songs in the audience's autobiographies to life once more and just enjoy himself.
At the Spark Arena, Auckland before a capacity crowd of a notably older demographic he certainly started well: the piped-in sound of Scotland the Brave (is Rod the world's most famous living Scotsman who never lived in that country?) he came on with gorgeous women and in a homage to Robert Palmer's video with a similarly glamorous “backing band” sang Palmer's Addicted to Love.
It was a brilliant start, got the audience on his side because here was a popular and recognisable hit (some may have thought it was one of his) and had a large dollop of self-effacing humour.
It looked to be a grand night.
Rod had the wit, the look (cheekbones, hair, tan, narrow hips, nice threads and shoes), a cracking proper band and a massive stage set with back projections. It was all there, except . . .
All except the voice which became apparent on You Wear It Well which followed, and was even more noticeable later on Sam Cooke's Twistin' the Night Away, the duet of It Takes Two (which he'd done with Tina Turner), Forever Young and First Cut is the Deepest.
Ends of lines disappeared, the distinctive and endearing rasp was smoothed out and his delivery of ballads – notably Maggie May – lacked nuance.
Not that many would have cared or noticed: for decades – we were doing it back in '91 at Western Springs – we've been singing Rod's songs back at him (Sailing, anyone?).
And for the first third of this concert with a set list which sometimes seemed like a Classic Hits programme – Some Guys Have All the Luck, Creedence's Have You Ever Seen the Rain – the audience delighted in the familiar and Rod's cheeky presence full of asides, winks and gentle hip wiggles.
His shirt was neatly tailored, the dark wide darts on each side of the white suggesting a slimmer figure than he actually had, but that was to his credit. He understands the nature and presentation of stardom (beyond the drinking/shagging/carrying-on) People have come to see Rod Stewart, The Star and that is what he delivered, if sometimes rather breathlessly..
The enjoyment was palpable, but the band and the audience were doing most of the heavy lifting, especially the band which at times had half a dozen of his gorgeous women on stage as backing singers and musicians.
The two fiddle players were given plenty of space and time – notably when Rod went off, the screen brought in a Highland pipe band and the women fiddlers danced a wee jig for a while. It was only 40 minutes in but Rod needed the breather while the audience was treated to a kind of Las Vegas-style cabaret of the Coors-meets-Riverdance.
At moments like these – and there were far too many – it almost seemed as if Rod was incidental in his own production . . . and it was terrific production of lighting, back projections, footage and classic songs, with the star having plenty of time and space to get his breath back.
Stewart's populist and crowd-pleasing aside -- albeit rather sad at times and often disappointing for his diminished vocals – the night probably belonged to Cyndi Lauper whose voice can drive in nails a mile away and whose Noo Yawk humour was just as winning as Rod's sly jack-the-lad deliveries.
Lauper has had a remarkable career but for many it boils down to the familiar hits: She-Bop, Time After Time, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, True Colours, Money Changes Everything . . . the Classic Hits high rotation singles.
And as with Rod, she knew what her audience wanted, and delivered.
Time has wrought some interesting changes in how her songs have increasingly been received, always as powerful feminist statements (She Bop, Girls Just Want to Have Fun particularly) but as the footage shown during Fun proved – women on pro-choice and Roe Vs Wade marches with “girls just want to have fun(damental rights)” posters – they have become even more important and resonant.
Her songs have grown, changed and acquired new meaning, Rod's have been embalmed in the memory of the times when we first heard them.
Lauper joked about her thick accent but when she was serious we were in no doubt what she meant about women's rights and abortion (the footage accompanying the moving Sally's Pigeon).
She also spoke directly to the audience about being able to dance but keeping out of the aisles and gently remonstrated with a security guard (just doing his job as she acknowledged) who seemed a little over-vigilant.
“It's not jazz,” she said to huge applause . . . then in an unintentional irony sang her wonderful Time After Time which Miles Davis had covered.
Stewart and Lauper have had a lifetime to understand and deliver star power and both had the kind of charisma which Kiwi expat opener Jon Stevens lacked.
Sure he had the songs, some by INXS who he has fronted, but there was a generic Australian bar-band delivery to everything, he's the one you call when AC/DC/ Jimmy Barnes and others of that yelping ilk aren't available.
His brief stab at the local hit Montego Bay was obligatory and perfunctory.
But what we learn from a big stadium show like this is the investment the audience has (a single ticket $300 and upward for many) in songs and artists they have loved and respected, and whose stars are now on their final rodeo.
Stevens delivered but little more and Lauper engaged and was extraordinary in her range, power and songs.
Sir Rod offered himself, his songs (and those of others) for us to sing along to but his act was also full of gestures to please the crowd.
(I have no doubt about the sincerity of his salute to and support of Ukraine later in the show, but I -- a longtime supporter and defender of Rod -- missed it. I'd left earlier to avoid further disappointment).
Ultimately his production reminded those who came for the voice and the feeling that we were shortchanged . . . through no fault of his own other than the attritions of age.
But 78 and still having fun?
It's very welcome in this Age of Bitterness and Rage, innit?
Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, Jon Stevens. Spark Arena, Auckland. April 10 2023
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