The ads for Rod Stewart’s Hollywood Bowl concert, the finale of his current tour, tagged the show “from Maggie May to the Great American Songbook.” But instead of the smooth progression promised, the two-hour perf showcased three distinctly different Stewarts: a perfunctory walk through his late ’70s/early ’80s solo hits; a rousing (and much anticipated) reunion with his “best mate and younger brother” Ron Wood; and a swanky, elegant showcase of his most recent J Records collections, “As Time Goes By” and “It Had to Be You.”
The show’s opening songs did not inspire confidence. Stewart’s voice sounded like someone had punched holes in it: He lacked power and stamina, and when he tried to reach certain notes, all he grasped was air. The three backing vocalists often seemed to be covering up his limitations. But then, neither Stewart nor the band seemed to care much about “Young Hearts,” “Downtown Train” or a tribute to Robert Palmer.
It was left for Stewart the entertainer to salvage this section — his charisma remains undimmed, and he can still teach younger performers how to effectively wield a mic stand.
Things picked up when Wood, whose guitar playing alongside Stewart as a member of the Faces can be heard on the Rhino box set “Five Guys Walk Into a Bar,” sauntered onto the stage. Launching into the Faces’ “Stay With Me,” Wood lit a fire under the band, whose earlier playing sounded sleepy and mailed in, and took about 20 years off Stewart’s perf. His singing was looser, and playfully dogged by Wood, his movements took on a swaggering confidence.
Stewart tore into his classic reworking of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” with a passion that couldn’t have been predicted a half-hour earlier, and had a rollicking good time with “Every Picture Tells a Story.” The highlight of this too-short portion of the evening was a deeply felt take on “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Even after Wood left the stage, his presence was felt in lively takes on “Hot Legs” and “Reason to Believe.”
Following a short intermission (including an ad for high-end sound systems featuring Stewart, a crass act for a show where tickets topped $500), a tux-clad Stewart returned at the top of a staircase, his band (augmented by a nine-piece string section) sitting at sparkly gold bandstands. Singing what he calls “some of the most beautiful songs ever written,” he lovingly delivered classic tunes including “As Time Goes By,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Brighter and more lively than the recorded versions, Stewart is completely at home in these songs, using his craggy rasp to accent their melodic and emotional subtleties, making you wish he would ditch the often syrupy arrangements and record an album of classics in a small-group setting.
Section took a dive, however, when he moved from covers to his own material. “Tonight’s the Night” was creepy enough when it was first released, but now that he’s pushing 60, this musical seduction of a virgin veers into Humbert Humbert territory.
Things picked up when Wood returned (along with former Face Ian McLagan) for “Maggie May” and took the lead vocal on “Ooh La La.”
The best moments of this show proved that, when Stewart wants, he can still do what he did back in his prime.