Sunday 16 June 2019

Rod Stewart at Páirc Uí Chaoimh review: 'Rodders does old school stagecraft like no other'

Rod Stewart performs on stage
Rod Stewart performs on stage

Barry Egan in Cork

Last night in Cork Rod Stewart made sure that Liam Miller was in our hearts.

During his performance of You’re In My Heart a picture of the Irish football legend who died of cancer last year aged just 36 flashed up on the screen with the words: Liam Miller, 1981 to 2018.

Throughout the show last night in front of 35,000 fans the reigning king of blue-eyed soul wore it wear in signature leopard skin at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork.

Opening with the finger-snapping  magic of  Infatuation to the stirring tale of young-love -on -the-run Young Hearts Run Free , quickly followed by Hole In My Heart, You Wear It Well and then Tonight’s The Night, Rod transported the audience to a place of wonder. What made it that little bit more wonderful was that the sun was shining by the banks of the Lee; and as Rod sang about the start of a love affair on Tonight’s The Night, last night in Cork it seemed like the summer was starting.

 “It’s Saturday night and let’s enjoy ourselves and forget about Trump and hard/soft borders,” he implored the crowd who were dancing in the aisles like Cork had just won the All Ireland.

For some of them it was probably like the greatest wedding they had ever been at as Rod played all the hits, like Baby Jane and Maggie May. He dedicated the latter to his wife Penny Lancaster who was in the audience.

“The song was written in 1971, the year she was born,” he explained. Rod didn’t add that the song was inspired by a trip in 1961 to a jazz festival in Europe where in a beer tent he was deflowered by an older lady called Maggie and his performance was lamentably quick. (“Oh, Maggie, I couldn’t have tried any more, “ he sang. )

Last night the opposite was very much the case as Rod played 24 songs and performed tirelessly for over two hours. Maggie - where ever in the world she is - would have been proud.

In fact, Rod’s show was a masterclass in soul and rhythm and blues  — the music that first inspired Rod as a teenager in North London when he gave up measuring graves to follow his dream. Mercifully for us he did, too, as last night Rod delivered us with a raspy voice that at times could have  matched his hero Sam Cooke for its transcending soulfulness. Especially on Have I Told You Lately and Rather Go Blind. This man was on fire. Moving about the stage with a winning gusto and energy that betrayed his age, Rodders does old school stagecraft like no other, with the possible exception of his old muckers Mr Jagger or Mr John. 

It is in his DNA that he knows how to put on a show.

Every song made s persuasive claim to being a masterpiece from Memphis or Detroit in another time and era  last night in Cork;  or at least something that you would sing along to and remember long after the concert was over.

That's all that music can do for us.

Like Van Morrison, the only other singer who can touch him,  Rod relies on intuition and alchemy with his band to bring the songs alive in front of an audience. It is all about sound and feel especially when Rod gets lost in those moments of utter exultation of songs like... Grace (which had everyone in the crowd singing along) Twisting (which had everyone in the crowd twisting), Rhythm of My Heart (where Rod’s Scottish heritage emerged) and Sailing (Rod had been spotted on a boat doing just that with Penny earlier yesterday in Crosshaven.)

This is to say nothing of the aching power of  Rather Go Blind and Cat Stevens’ The First Cut is the Deepest (Rod makes sad songs so powerful) and the aforementioned Young Hearts Run Free .

Rod might be 74  — might be wearing leopard-print  and have a haircut that refuses to come into fashion — but he sang Young Hearts like it was a rebel song of young love against the world that Bruce Springsteen could have written ('Time is on your side

Don’t let ’em put you down

Don’t let ’em push you around'). He sang it with  a sincerity that marks Rod's vocal style. That's why he can sing soul.

Because you believe he is feeling what he is singing about.  He can sing sadness (the homosexual murder of The Killing of Georgie; the inspiring melancholy of Sailing, "to be near you, to be free"), he can sing blues (Rod is up there with Joe Cocker and Robert Plant as a brill Brit blues shouter), folk, rock, and of course, disco-era lust. Rod once described Da Ya Think I’m Sexy in his autobiography as “a pink toilet seat hung around my neck for the rest of my life”.

But when Rod is in full alpha male flow, as he was when he played it last night with his three blonde backing singers dancing beside him (like ghosts of his blonde girlfriend past) I was thinking: had Freddie Mercury done this with Queen we’d be re-visting it as a slightly bonkers retro camp classic of its epoch, and we’d be demanding they make a movie of Rod’s life. Every night Rod Stewart seems to star in the movie of his own life. He seems happier in his life and his music than he ever has. (I’m sure Rod doesn’t sit around in his Bel Air mansion pondering what  Greil Marcus wrote about him in Rolling Stone in 1980: “Rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely.”)

Rod clearly has the desire to do this, clearly has the fire still burning in his belly. You could see that in his performance last night in Cork. He was enjoying himself, a cheeky smile never far from his face. He was enjoying singing the songs we love so much. This wasn’t a superstar phoning it in so he could get home for supper at the hotel with the wife and grand kids. Rod would have played all night if they would have let him. Deep down, he is still that music-obsessed working class lad from North London whose voice was his salvation; he still has that cheeky twinkle in his eye and that voice that he had when he performed with The Faces  in the early 1970s (do yourself a favour and stick on You Tube and watch The Faces live at the BBC in 1971 doing - Three Button Hand Me :’

I don't need no one's opinion

On the matter concerning my dress

I was raised in a clinic down in Oklahoma

There were many things I did not possess...’)

Rod still retains that magic to entertain nearly fifty years on. He’s in our hearts. And last night Cork was blessed to witness him at his eternal soul boy best.

*It was announced today, that due to phenomenal demand, Rod Stewart will play an extra date at 3Arena Dublin on 5 December 2019. Tickets for this extra date go on sale this Thursday 30 May from all usual outlets.

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