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In a Forbes interview last month, two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Rod Stewart said he expects to stop playing his rock hits live by the end of next year and turn his focus to standards and swing music. “I don’t want to be singing ‘Hot Legs’ when I’m 80,” he quipped.
Stewart’s concert Friday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center suggested maybe he shouldn’t be singing ‘Hot Legs’ when he’s 77, either.
His performance once again proved Stewart’s famously raspy voice — considered one of rock music’s finest — has lost much of its power. Stewart struggled to hit notes, particularly in his more upbeat songs like “Young Turks,” and let the crowd of about 8,500 sing choruses back to him.
Stewart opened with a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” complete with a band of women styled like the ones in Palmer’s memorable music video. Those women turned out to be a surprisingly big part of the show and served as a crucial crutch for Stewart through strong backing vocals and a series of between-song musical interludes that gave Stewart the chance to catch his breath. They even plowed through covers of Blondie’s “Call Me” and Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” without help from Stewart.
The audience gave warm welcomes to Stewart’s biggest hits (“Maggie May,” “Forever Young,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”) as well as the “acoustic” set in the second hour that featured drums, keyboards, horns, strings, guitar, upright bass and a harp. He crooned his own “The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II),” Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” The audience joined Stewart for his nostalgic/romantic hits “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” and “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim).”
Throughout the show, Stewart kept a smile on his face, chatted amiably with the crowd, kicked soccer balls during “Hot Legs” and offered some dance moves reminiscent of a tipsy grandfather at a wedding reception And while his vocals failed to impress, he did sound better Friday than he did at his last show at the X in 2018, when he was often gasping for air.
One great thing about Stewart is that he chooses terrific opening acts like Stevie Nicks, Santana and Cyndi Lauper. On Friday night, Illinois rockers Cheap Trick warmed the stage with a solid hourlong set that blended lesser-known songs, a fun take on the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and their still-potent hits “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and the epic “I Want You to Want Me.” Lead singer Robin Zander, 69, sounded terrific and 73-year-old guitarist Rick Nielsen wailed on a series of multi-necked six strings.