POP MUSIC REVIEW : Rod Stewart Makes No Musical Point
When it comes to stardom, Rod Stewart knows how to wear it well.
But anyone who seriously cares about rock ‘n’ roll’s expressive possibilities can’t help feeling that when Stewart donned the mantle of star showman, he displayed terrible taste in wardrobe.
Stewart’s concert Friday at the Pacific Amphitheatre echoed news that is well over a decade old: Once a singer who had the humble warmth to make every musical picture tell a story, Stewart, 44, has become a mere entertainer who can fill the canvas with his stage persona but seems incapable of drawing worthwhile depictions of the world beyond the footlights.
It’s fitting for a star to show the strutting energy and solicitous regard for his fans that Stewart brought to his two-hour performance. When he wasn’t twirling his lightweight microphone stand, dancing across the stage, or kicking soccer balls into the crowd, Stewart could be found working the front rows, pressing hands, bestowing kisses, accepting bouquets, transferring some glow to the star-struck. While most stars keep watchdogs in the wings to give overly enthusiastic fans a quick bum’s rush, Stewart was comfortable enough with his audience to let two fans who leaped on stage late in the concert shake, shimmy and promenade to their hearts’ content.
It wasn’t so fitting for Stewart, the writer of such early ‘70s landmarks as “Every Picture Tells a Story” and “Mandolin Wind,” to lard his show with such disposable ‘80s material as “Passion,” “Infatuation” and “Crazy About Her.”
When he was at his artistic peak, Stewart favored simple, folk-tinged song arrangements and basic, good-time, bash-'em-out rock ‘n’ roll. Instead of coming off as a star, Stewart in those days sounded like a great, endearing pal talking to you in a barroom--a young man avid to go out in the world, take his lumps and come back and tell about his experiences with self-deprecating humor.
That Stewart hardly has existed since the mid-1970s. The one who showed up for the first of two weekend shows at the Pacific had a sense of fun but no sense of musical purpose. His eight-man band delivered routine, mannered, inflated arena rock that was big on the usual stiff, crashing beats, grandiloquent synthesizer flourishes and swooping guitar solos.
There were only a few instances when the show rocked freely: notably a cranking version of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller” and party-hearty encores of “Tonight I’m Yours” and Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away.” Stewart approximated his old intimacy only during “You’re in My Heart” and a lovingly rendered “Reason to Believe.”
It wasn’t surprising that Stewart’s customized stage had a big star painted near its apron. Every picture tells a story, don’t it?