The ability to age gracefully is one of the rarer commodities in rock ‘n’ roll — and Rod Stewart’s willingness to do just that has been one of the more pleasant surprises in boomer-era pop culture over the past few years. The 61-year-old singer used that capacity to great effect at a Monday night Gotham show that saw him compensate for some rocky vocal efforts with an abundance of charm.
This relatively intimate gig — which was beamed into theaters and onto the Web on a one hour delay — afforded Stewart the opportunity to test-drive material from his just-released J disc “Still the Same: Great Rock Classics of Our Time.”
Billed as a return to roots, the collection isn’t exactly a reprise of the singer’s role as hell-raising blues-buster. Rather, it’s a refocusing that finds him concentrating on considerably mellower, more wizened material than he might have recorded a couple of decades back.
Set loose on burnished ’70s standards such as Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” Stewart responded with an almost coltish enthusiasm, taking care to temper the sandpaper edges of his upper register with dollops of honey coaxed from the recesses of his baritone. He got the balance right for a goodly portion of the perf, even though some of the repertoire choices — John Waite’s unctuous “Missing You,” for instance — were a bit iffy.
As the program went on, however, Stewart’s pipes began surrendering to the rust borne of a long period away from the stage — not to mention some fairly serious medical issues. The difficulties started when he reached down one time too many on a spirited but strained “Hot Legs,” which left him noticeably winded, and continued through a meandering “Downtown Train” that was unnecessarily punctuated by a lengthy drum solo.
That misstep aside, Stewart’s backing band — particularly pedal steel player Cindy Cashdollar — buoyed him through the set’s choppiest waters, helping him stage a stellar recovery for a late salvo of “First Cut is the Deepest” and “Reason to Believe,” that took on a more poignant tenor coming from the sexagenarian Stewart than they did when he sang them three decades ago.