Rod Stewart – Nottingham Trent FM Arena, Thursday May 20.
“This is a nice little arena” said Rod Stewart approvingly, gazing out over his audience of ten thousand. “This is what we consider an intimate crowd”, he added, by way of explanation. But everything is relative, of course – and for a stadium artist of Rod’s stature, we must have seemed like quite a cosy bunch.
According to Rod, this was his first date in Nottingham since an appearance with the Jeff Beck group in 1967. This might have come as a surprise to anyone who enjoyed his last appearance at the Arena in 2002 – but who could expect a touring veteran of nearly fifty years’ standing to remember all the details?
After four platinum-selling Great American Songbook albums and a collection of rock classics, the 65 year-old superstar’s most recent release (Soulbook) has seen him return to the soul music which first inspired him. Just three cuts from the album were aired, including an energetic version of The O’Jays’ Love Train, which opened the show. These were joined by several more classic soul covers, including two numbers by Sam Cooke (Having A Party and Twistin’ The Night Away) which suited Stewart’s throaty upper register vocals particularly well. To complete the evening’s “soul revue” feel, a trio of excellent divas provided strong backing throughout.
Sixties classics aside, there was still plenty of room for the hits, which spanned from the early Seventies (the evergreen Maggie May) to the early Nineties (a well received Rhythm Of My Heart). The only slight disappointment was a rather lacklustre You Wear It Well, performed before Rod had fully warmed up (the old-timer was understandably pacing himself, holding some of his energies in reserve for later on), and before the initially muddy sound mix had been adjusted (things improved dramatically after the interval).
If the first few numbers were slightly under par, the turning point came after Rod’s first of several costume changes. Returning to the stage for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, his tender, sincere rendition did Van Morrison’s song full justice. And for all his good-natured goofing and galumphing around during the rockers, perhaps it was on the ballads that his artistry shone the most. Handbags And Gladrags was a particular highlight, its distinctive opening bars greeted with gasps of delight, and by the time we reached The First Cut Is The Deepest and I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Rod had us eating out of the palm of his hand.
As the night wore on, everybody loosened up – as did Rod’s array of smart jackets and shirts, which never seemed to stay securely fastened for long. Supporters of his beloved Celtic FC threw a hat and a scarf onto the stage during You’re In My Heart, which was performed to a video montage of the team’s finest moments. Both were picked up and worn for a while. By the time we got to Hot Legs, Rod was kicking footballs into the crowd. One reached the back of the main floor; another touched one of the VIP boxes at the top; another went so high that it became stuck in the lighting rig. Not bad going, for a man who has just reached the official retirement age.
The two and a quarter hour show climaxed with an unexpectedly moving Sailing, demonstrating once again that Stewart knew when to rein in the showboating, in order to give the much loved anthem the respect it deserved – even after performing it literally thousands of times over the last thirty-five years. It was the mark of a true professional.
Hilariously, the curtains failed to open for the final encore of Baby Jane, leaving Rod and the band stranded and out of sight. Ever the trouper, he ushered his players through a narrow gap at the side of the stage, and corralled them into position in the one remaining strip at the front. It was an enjoyably chaotic end to a superb, memorable show from one of our true national treasures.
Love Train, Tonight’s The Night, Some Guys Have All The Luck, You Wear It Well, Having A Party, This Old Heart Of Mine, Rhythm Of My Heart, You Keep Me Hanging On, Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Handbags And Gladrags, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Sweet Little Rock And Roller, Stay With Me, I Was Only Joking, It’s The Same Old Song, Rainy Night In Georgia, Twistin’ The Night Away, D’Ya Think I’m Sexy, Soul Finger, The First Cut Is The Deepest, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, You’re In My Heart, Hot Legs, Maggie May, Sailing, Baby Jane.