BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
When you go to a party, Rod Stewart is the guy you want to see when the door opens.
As rascally and playful at 70 as he was in the “Rod the Mod” days five decades ago, Stewart is an enduring entertainer, whether on stage in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,000 or tooling around L.A. with late-night host James Corden (if you haven’t seen this video, spend nine minutes of your life and watch it now …and then please continue reading).
At his Wednesday night show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Stewart strutted in his shimmery silver jacket during the opening “Infatuation,” one of his sturdiest ‘80s rockers infused with a snaky groove and added punch from his brass trio.
He giddily bounced around the stage with charmingly goofy dance moves and a wagging tongue during his faithful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” and put his gravelly voice to good use on his version of “It’s a Heartache.”
Then he planted his hands on his hips, flashed a cheeky smile and announced, “I’m Rod Stewart, and I’m a singer.”
Moments later, he was an undeniably sweaty singer, shaking his head in misery at the muggy weather and stating the most candid comment heard from a stage so far this year: “Jesus, it’s hot here.”
Stewart allowed his smartly outfitted band to remove their jackets and roll up their dress shirt sleeves for the duration of the nearly two-hour, hits-packed show and proceeded to thrill the crowd.
Stewart’s impishness was always on display, whether side-stepping through the perky pop of “Some Guys Have All the Luck” or flashing a knowing grin during “Tonight’s the Night.”
Through it all – and even if you’ve seen it all before – Stewart, who last visited Atlanta in 2013 , was a charmer. And that he still sounded gruffly on point – “no miming here,” as he noted after a deeply soulful take on “Have I Told You Lately” – makes him a performer well worth the ticket price.
His clean, open stage – accented by a halo of lights, a vertical screen hanging from the rafters and a series of hi-def panels displaying everything from butterflies to cityscapes to classic footage of a young, androgynous Stewart and a sweet shot of him and his deceased father (the perfect complement to his autobiographical foot stomper, “Can’t Stop Me Now") – allowed plenty of space for his 10-piece band and three backup singers to roam.
Stewart took advantage of that multi-talented band – including guitarist Don Kirkpatrick and violinist J’Anna Jacoby – and dashed offstage while they performed the coda to his mellifluous prayer, “Forever Young,” returning in a gold sateen suit and some radically cool leopard print high-tops.
He and the band notched down the volume and were joined by an orchestra of six Atlanta musicians for a harp and violin-coated read of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest” and a casual-yet-supple performance of the Faces’ “Ooh La La” (Stewart also told fans to “keep the faith,” that a reunion was still in the works).
With a new album set to bow in October, it was a welcome expectation that Stewart unveiled the first single, “Love Is,” a catchy mid-tempo tune flecked with fiddle and banjo, but unmistakably directed at Stewart’s Baby Boomer demographic.
After a couple of rousing covers (“Sweet Little Rock & Roller” and “Proud Mary”), Stewart, after another costume change into pale blue pants and a flower-print shirt, barely needed to prod the crowd into singing along with the eternally sweet “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim).” Fans also lunged toward the stage as the impressively spry Stewart lobbed his autographed soccer balls into the sea of waiting hands as he thundered through “Stay with Me” and then incited more swooning with “Maggie May.”
Stewart will return to Las Vegas for another set of dates for his Caesars Palace residency July 31-Aug. 16. If he’s truly having as much fun performing as it appears, don’t expect retirement to be an option any time soon.
Opening for Stewart was the terminally gifted, terrifically underrated Richard Marx.
For about 50 minutes, Marx and his taut four-piece band, including ace drummer Chuck Tilley and keyboardist Steve Hornbeak, unleashed a flood of hits that was a firm reminder of Marx's songwriting prowess.
A diminutive figure in black jeans and vest and a white button-down, Marx delivered with his distinctive voice – a hint of rasp, a smidgen of nasal bray.
“Endless Summer Nights” fittingly kicked off the set, followed by “Satisfied,” which replaced its propulsive jingle-jangle guitar with a soulful slant.
Marx’s dry wit mostly went over the heads of the crowd – most of whom were too busy chattering to appreciate the haunting beauty of “Hazard” and the romantic longings nestled in “Hold On To the Nights” and “Now and Forever.”
Whatever. Their loss.
Marx has been a top draw as a songwriter since his own radio career cooled (though last year’s slinky “Beautiful Goodbye” album is worth seeking out), having written with Luther Vandross, Keith Urban, Jennifer Nettles and Ringo Starr, among others.
But hearing him play his own material, primarily on guitar, was a treat. A bonus musical moment came when Kirkpatrick, a member of Marx’s band before joining Stewart’s, popped onstage to play slide guitar on “Don’t Mean Nothin',” Marx’s first hit in 1987 and still deliciously cynical after all these years.
Equally noteworthy was “Should’ve Known Better,” a perfectly constructed pop song with equal parts grit and sheen.
Marx’s heart-tugging ballad “Right Here Waiting” gets most of the recognition in his extensive catalog, but those who are listening know the depth of his talents.