Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Review: Rod Stewart keeps it fun and breezy in Abu Dhabi debut

The British singer performed a solid set packed with near back-to-back hits.
Rod Stewart performed at du Arena in Abu Dhabi on March 2, 2017. Delores Johnson / The National
Rod Stewart performed at du Arena in Abu Dhabi on March 2, 2017. Delores Johnson / The National

The stage set up at Rod Stewart’s Du Arena gig on Thursday night was daunting.

There were two sparkling drum sets, a couple of fiddles, guitars, two pianos, a saxophone and a giant gilded harp for good measure.

One wondered if the British star was fooling us all along.

Yes, he would be performing his greatest hits as advertised, but, instead, we would be subjected to Celtic-jazz versions of his catalogue.

As it turned out, the instruments were all used by his dozen piece band - thankfully they only served to flesh out the 21 song set that formed Stewart’s solid performance.

With Rockin’ Rod, it is always comes down to that voice.

That winning combination of full throttled roar and raspy whisper served the 72-year-old well.

It allowed his five decade career to encompass various styles ranging from pop, rock and folk to his relatively recent foray into the Great American Songbook.

With the exception of the latter, all the genres were covered in a breezy 90 minute show.

But it was a dodgy start, however.

Perhaps to warm up those vocals and the band, Stewart began the set with two relatively standard soul covers.

Having a Party by Sam Cooke and The Isley Brother’s The Old Heart of Mine were decent enough, but nothing you haven’t heard by an anonymous cover band at a work function.

The energy was perilously low at the end of the follow up, the camp fire folk of Love Is, from Stewart’s latest album, 2015’s Another Country.

Thankfully, Stewart found his groove; Tonight’s the Night kicked off a run near back to back hits that included the anthemic Forever Young and the rousing Rhythm of My Heart - the latter saw members of the crowd playing air-bag pipes.

Then came arguably the concert’s biggest moment, Maggie May.

You can understand why Stewart originally released the rootsy track as a B-side to accompany the more uplifting Reason To Believe in 1971.

Over 25 years on and Maggie May continues to be one of those pop music gems where the rollicking melodies disguise absolutely cutting lyrics.

Stewart slowed it down once again for a charming acoustic middle section.

He provided a heart felt version of Ooh La La by his former band The Faces, before his sensitive interpretations of Cat Steven’s First Cut is the Deepest and Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately.

After the mass sing along of Sailing, the guitars and the twin drums were again made to full use in a thumping take of The Faces Stay With Me.

Not even the polish of the cracking musicians could mask what is a down and dirty rock song.

I wished the concert ended at that high point.

Seeing a sweaty Stewart howl away like a banshee would have been the perfect image to take away from the show.

Instead, for the encore he wheeled out the awfully cheesy disco staple Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? - a minor blight on what is a sterling body of work.


Updated: March 3, 2017 04:00 AM