But if you manage to take a leap of faith then his career-spanning performance of smash hits makes for a fabulous two-hour celebration of one of music's most charismatic Peter Pans, the Rocking Rodfather. Which was precisely what the 15 000 strong crowds that braved the cold Cape doctor at Sahara Park, Newlands wanted: a bit of good old fashioned rock burlesque.
Sure, after he skipped out onto the Sahara Park stage it took Rod a few numbers to warm up. “Some Guys Have All the Luck” should’ve been an instant crowd pleaser, but Rod’s trademark rasp wasn’t totally lubricated yet, so he ended up sounding more Robert Palmer cloned suave crooner, than sexy Rod Stewart rocker. Ditto his cover of Bonnie Tyler's power ballad “It's A Heartache” which had the Rodiminator sidestepping any high notes and stamping his feet in an attempt to get his ageing pipes up to Scotch-gargled scratch.
Not that he was especially worried. Or the crowd even noticed. By the time he announced his cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” the odd botched note during Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” were quickly forgotten. And we finally got to hear moments of why James Brown once hailed Rod as “the best white soul singer in the world”. He is a brilliant balladeer. His note perfect rendition of “The First Cut Is the Deepest” had everyone singing along.
And his heartfelt interpretation of Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” was a slice of genius with some Kodak moments from Rod’s private family life projected onto the big screens adding just the requisite hint of pathos to Rod crooning lines “Look at me, I’m old but I’m happy”. For a second watching Rod up there in his suit ‘n tie you almost bought the working class hero pitch.
But Rod is not John Lennon. He’s never tried to be. He’s got his own spiel. He’s Rod the rocker. He romps through rhythm ‘n blues ass wiggles and a crowd chant-along inducing cover of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” He invites his backing singers, the Laptop girls to add some funk on their cover of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” during a costume change (brown leather now). He saves his teen classic “Young Turks” from his backing band’s speed wobble by striking a simple pose centre stage.
He’s also Rod the football fanatic. Who “has a go on the guitar” to pay tribute to his beloved Celtic football hero Jimmy Johnson by time traveling way back to 1969 to sing the first song he ever recorded, a quaint acoustic pub song spin on Ewan Macoll’s “Dirty Old Town.”
Of course he’s also Rod the raconteur, who chuckles when his microphone stand almost blows over, then takes a 10 minute break. Sure the soccer anthems piped over the speakers don’t quite work, but no one really seems to care, waiting patiently for Rocking Rod to return for the second half.
“Tonight’s the Night” he declares as he scampers back onstage in a black leather jacket and snappy scarf (yeah, best keep those tonsils warm, mate – it’s getting pretty cold) before belting out “Forever Young”. He really is Peter Pan tonight, winding black the clock with the delicate Latin guitar kissed Valentine’s ballad “You’re in My Heart”. “I love a good singlaong,” smiles Sunburned Rod. The Desperate Housewives do too. And they adore his showy Las Vegas version of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”. “Have I told you? That I love you!” wails a Camps Bay mom in her husband’s ear. He smiles and hugs her tight.
And you know what. Tonight is the night. For pretty much anyone over 40 Rod is singing the soundtrack to the days of their lives, their love affairs, and yes, their fading youth. It’s a gloriously nostalgic affair. He may be 63 and squeezing every last ounce of soul out of his voice, but Rod never misses a beat. Rod the Dad invites his 21 year old blonde daughter Ruby on stage to sing The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket” while he takes another breather.
Then it’s back to Rod the raconteur who cheekily shows us a happy snap of himself sporting red high heels and a nurse's uniform brandishing a jar of Vaseline. “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?” he teases. Just to show us that he isn’t ready for a pipe and slippers just yet. The slap and tickle cues the arrival of Wild Rod and the raunchy R&B rocker “Hot Legs”. During which he starts booting soccer balls into the crowd. Yep, Rod’s a dying breed of showman. Can you imagine today’s blue eyed soul prince, Justin Timberlake having such un-choreographed fun on stage? Nope.
And so onto the home stretch with rockers segueing into ballads and back again. There’s load of magic singalong moments – and not only for the moms and dads either. His low-key take on “I Don’t Want to Talk about It” actually gets a 20-something jock to serenade his girlfriend with a grin.
By the time he breezes into “Maggie May” you couldn’t care less that - musically speaking – one of his biggest hits sounds like just another catatonic clap-along. The chorus is so damn catchy you don’t care. So you whoop when he blazes into “Baby Jane” because we all remember the time, that time, those times when we were young and restless romantic Romeos and Juliette. Maybe the 80s groove isn’t as awesome as we remember but who cares! Not Rod. He’s booting more soccer balls into the audience. There’s another sax solo from his sexy blonde blower. The crowd is totally into it.
“How was it?” Rod asks. He knows how it was. Rod’s rocking the socks off of everyone. So he leaps straight into “Do ya Think I’m Sexy?” And every lady loses it. 30 seconds later a Wondebra lands at his feet. What size cup you say? C plus, of course! Rod the geezer’s grinning now. It’s time to take the mood down real low and slow, so he strikes a photo pose with his laptop ladies for a 5.1 megapixel moment for the crowd….and that’s it! Good night folks.
No way. “We want more!” Even if we don’t know why, we just do. And we get an encore. His biggest power ballad hit: “Sailing”. Guitars swell, couples clinch closer together. Even the Cape doctor pauses for long enough for the ladies to get out their lighters. And throats lump just a little as we remember that we’re still in love. It’s a fitting moment, no dramatic goodbye bows, just a little wave and then the screen: “Rod Stewart has left the building.”
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