Print  March 31, 2011 

Cougar Alert!: Rod Stewart & Stevie Nicks Bring the Hits to Boston

With a combined 75 years of hits between them, there’s no way that a Stevie Nicks/Rod Stewart double bill could possibly disappoint? Well…the two legends of pop/rock took the stage for a show at Boston’s TD Garden and blew my modest expectations away. Both in their sixties, and with two completely different styles of performance, each artist was incredibly entertaining.

My expectations were modest for several reasons. One was Nicks’ well-documented history of drug abuse. Another was Rod Stewart’s recent inclination towards the great American songbook. I didn’t want to see the guy sitting on a stool sitting standards. There was also the fact that the opening date of the barely week-old tour had already been cancelled on account of Stewart having the flu.

Nicks came out to the strains of 1983′s “Stand Back” and immediately put to rest any doubts I had about the power of her voice. Although many of both artists’ songs were adjusted to make up for the natural change in pitch that comes with age, Nicks was nonetheless full-voiced for her entire hour-plus set, in which she spotlighted two new songs in addition to her classic solo material, with several of her more famous Fleetwood Mac songs thrown in. Her set’s highlight was a moving version of “Landslide”, performed with only an acoustic guitar as images from the various stages of her life and career played on a screen behind her. Stevie’s band was top-notch, and if I have one complaint about her set, it’s that at times she and her band seemed too rehearsed. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of spontaneity or “dirt”. Then again, how many people want to hear spontaneous riffing on songs like “Dreams” and “Rihannon”, anyway? Of course, Stevie brought out her full assortment of scarves, wraps and stoles, and did much whirling around and posing mysteriously during her set.

If Stevie represented the singer/songwriter side of the fence, then Rod was Mr. Entertainment. His stage was set up like an old music revue from the Sixties, complete with horn section (featuring a sexy female sax player), a guitarist who made Mayer-esque O faces whenever he headed to the front of the stage for a solo, and a troupe of comely backup singers, including one who delivered a showstopping version of “Proud Mary” while Rod took a quick breather. As for the man himself, there were remnants of his rumored illness (he carried a kerchief with him during much of the show and dabbed at his nose occasionally), but he was in full voice and incredibly good spirits, serving as emcee as well as entertainment. He showed pictures of himself in moderate drag before kicking into “Hot Legs”, dedicated a stirring version of “Forever Young” to his newborn son (his eighth child!?!?!) and kicked soccer balls into the audience. Anyone doubting the man’s virility should have looked on as he practically hit the upper deck of the Garden with some of his kicks.

Opening with a version of The O’Jays’ “Love Train”, Rod plowed through forty years of hits, from folky faves like “The First Cut is the Deepest” and “Reason to Believe” to later cuts like “Some Guys Have All the Luck”, the crowd was putty in his hands-although showing a picture of Robert Palmer’s face after singing the title line of the song-obviously done because Palmer sang the song first-was a little odd, considering that Palmer’s luck probably ran out a few years ago when he died. Stevie joined Rod for two of his better known Eighties hits (“Passion” and “Young Turks”) and they sounded good together although there was also the sense that Rod toned down his antics a little to accommodate Stevie’s more restrained style.

Of course, Rod sang his biggest and best-known classics, getting “Tonight’s the Night” out of the way surprisingly early (it was the second song he played), and saving “Maggie May” for the end of his main set. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” was the encore, and it didn’t disappoint. The fact that Rod can still sing that song believably at his age speaks volumes about his showmanship. He spent much of his set preening, posing, and dancing around in a way that would be completely goofy if he weren’t Rod Stewart and wasn’t still scooping up supermodels on the regular.

The ticket prices may have been a bit steep, but damn if Rod and Stevie didn’t give the crowd their money’s worth. There was certainly no sense of going through the motions on either part, and they performed with a joy and spirit that jaded performers 1/3 their age could learn from.