“It's Saturday night, so let's enjoy ourselves,” Rod Stewart suggested from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, and his typically affable directive raised an important question: On which night of the week exactly does Rod Stewart not enjoy himself?
This 66-year-old English singer, at the Bowl on Saturday for the first of two odd-couple gigs with Stevie Nicks, has spent well over half his life honing a scruffy superstar insouciance. You'd call him a roué if he appeared to put any effort into the pursuit of pleasure; rather, Stewart's style is to encourage pleasure to come to him, which has kept his act remarkably free of the desperation that can sour a show composed, as this one was, of familiar material.
Leading a 13-piece band that included several female instrumentalists wearing red-fringed cocktail dresses, Stewart paired old hits such as “Maggie May” and “Rhythm of My Heart” with covers of even older songs by Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry. The music wasn't bashful about cycling through the styles that have marked the progression of Stewart's career: “Reason to Believe” had stand-up bass and fiddle, and “Young Turks” rode a crisp new wave pulse; later, a disco ball appeared for “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?”
Whatever he was singing, though, Stewart exuded the same low-impact charm, shuffling across the brightly lighted Bowl stage as though he were on his way to dinner. (He changed colorful suit jackets several times even though he never worked up much of a sweat.) As for the singing itself, Stewart's signature rasp continues to edge toward a wheeze; it wasn't always audible Saturday over the sound of his band's pumped-up accompaniment. No matter: It's unlikely that anything he might have uttered would have said more about Rod Stewart than the sight of his kicking several dozen soccer balls into the crowd during “Hot Legs.”
Performing first at this hometown stop of what she and Stewart are calling the Heart & Soul Tour, Nicks, 62, revealed that she's lost a portion of her vocal range as well: The Fleetwood Mac frontwoman dodged high notes in “Dreams” and “Rhiannon” and took a low harmony line in “Edge of Seventeen,” leaving her backup singers to do the song's heavy melodic lifting.
Yet where Stewart used old-pro stage business to distract us from his limitations, Nicks turned hers into an asset, the rough grain of her voice concentrating the weird imperiousness of her music.
“Stand Back,” “Sorcerer,” “Gold Dust Woman” — these were powerful invocations of a type of mystery we rarely get from artists who've put in as much time as Nicks has in the public eye.
“There's no one that can take my place,” she sang with fists shaking in “Outside the Rain,” and it wasn't desperation she was expressing. It was total confidence.
Photo: Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks take their bows at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night. Credit: Barbara Davison/Los Angeles Times