Rod Stewart And Cyndi Lauper At Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, August 7th, 2018, Reviewed
Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, Rod Stewart brought Cyndi Lauper with him, the way he brought Stevie Nicks the last time Rod was here back in 2013, for an act of nostalgia, whatever he might claim, and however his instincts work, that was reminiscent of Frank Sinatra’s last tour, where Sinatra’s voice was shot but his reflexes hadn’t missed a beat. And Rod’s thirty third MSG concert was a classic.
Back in the day, back in the early 1970s, Rod Stewart was a true great, a rock star, bluesman, folkie, an interpreter of other people’s material of immense power and precision, a song writer of immense skill, a storyteller, and a nouveau riche glam artist. Rod went from the Jeff Beck Group, to the Faces, to a solo career, he changed from a long term artist to a disco diva, and when the hits ran out, hit the stadiums, the Chitterling circuit for cokeheads. His skills eroded over the years though he was always an excellent performer (Eli Kasan of The Gotobeds: “A true born performer. Not a self-conscience bone in his body”), and it took a very clever decision to cover the Great American Songbook in his instantly distinctive rasp, to put him back at the top of sales. Last night Rod shelved Gershwin and Berlin, and sang a lot of Rod, an early “You Wear It Wear” was hurt by a rusty vocal, was warmed up well on “Maggie May” half an hour later. These are his two best songs, though, astoundingly enough, his 2013 Time, found him reborn with his songwriting skills in tact. Time was his best album since, at the very earliest, 1998’s When We Were The Boys.
Rod in 2018 is the same only older, he does wear it well (remember when 73 years of age was old? Neither does Sir Rod) and with a full band, a handful of back up singers carrying him when he felt like skirting the melody, and some excellent moves -good enough to convince that he is dancing, he tried his best to defy his age. It was much better than the last time I saw Roderick, same venue, where he seemed a little tired (even though his voice was in better shape), perhaps Stevie Nicks, who drags me immensely, was to blame. Her opening did what it usually does, drives me to distraction. Not so Cyndi Lauper, Cyndi was almost flawless, I never much cared for “Drove All Night” and she opened with it and I loved “Kinky Boots” and last time I caught her she did a tremendous “The History Of Wrong Guys,” -Annaleiigh Ashford owns it and Cyndi reclaimed it, but she dropped the song last night. Those are my only caveats, Cyndi, who is a ridiculously fit 67 year old, was superb. I interviewed her for Creem back in 80something, we went to the Uncle Floyd Show, and she was, and remains, one of the nicest pop stars in the business. The set leaned as heavy as you could hope for on She’s So Unusual, though the highlight was probably her early internet hit “Shine”. Cyndi is quite the climber, and she went off the stage as close to the audience as she could manage, singing in the 100s and on the floor (the sound gets dodgy the further up you get). I might add that my $120 nosebleeds coulda used better acoustics (rock nyc scribe Michael Malone paid $20 for his -it’s a whole thing). More like a yenta, a Barbra Streisand, than a quirk popper, a new song, “Real Love” off her be here some day next musical “Working Girl” (Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford in the 80s: I can’t wait to hear what she does with “I have a head for business and a body for sin”). Cyndi was terrific, hit all the spots nicely including Captain Lou Albano being remembered), went a little easier on her autobiography, and the penultimate song had Cyndi offering her other true colors, with pictures from the million woman march to protest Trump, the pictures were of the feminist’s new motto: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun-damental rights”. Nice.
Cyndi joined Rod six songs into his set. It had been rough going, Infatuation” is an awful idea for a first song, “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” was saved by the back up singers who couldn’t save the worst version of “You Wear It Well,” I ever hope to hear and still better a bad “You Wear It Well,” than a good anything at all -I forgot how much I loved the mandolin. “Having A Party” was rasped into oblivion (and no namecheck for Sam Cooke), His voice began to warm up with a huge singalong to “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright),” always fun to hear sexagenarians singing along about taking a girl’s virginity by locking her in your home, plying her with drinks, and a warning that even a call to the police ain’t gonna stop him now, then back with Cyndi for a pretty on the money “It Takes Two” and while it is certainly true that Rod and Tina Turner had a hit with it, it will always belong to Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, whom he also didn’t namecheck.
Rod took occasional breaks to change clothes and/or catch his breath and his voice slowly came into focus, seldom more so than on one of the great story songs, “Maggie May,” a spectacularly detailed story of a May – September romance. The song is so great that somewhere in Lester Bangs back pages lies a short story based upon the song (and while this is tangential at best, may I take a moment to remember Lester’s close friend, the great rock critic John Morthland, he died a coupla years ago and is missed). “Downtown Train” is excellent, Rod mentioned Tom Waits thanking Rod for getting him a new roof to his house.
The acoustic portion wasn’t much till Rod finally let loose on “Have I Told You Lately,” he might not do it often but when the mood strikes him, Rod can blow you away on a song. As the night wound down, a raunchy “Stay With Me” was followed by “Dya Think I’m Sexy,” where Rod was joined by his two young sons and all three of them kicked footballs into the crowd, the youngest even did some excellent break dancing. The encore was “Sailing”. and a healthy 105 minute set was admired by all.
Sure, Sir Rod is running on fumes, and he is very careful to preserve his voice, but at 73 years of age, Stewart was absolutely terrific, a crowd pleaser to the nth degree, and a legend… for two albums, of course, but also a legendary performer on stage, Sinatra would get it. .