IT HAS been decades since Rod Stewart could justifiably be considered a vanguard figure in pop music, but last night he was the first artist to storm Scotland’s newest and biggest purpose built entertainment venue, the SSE Hydro in the city he regards as a home from home.
Stewart was a commercially, artistically and emotionally shrewd choice of artist to christen the 12,000-seater, £125 million arena. Just as the SECC are unveiling their pride and joy, so Stewart is entering a new chapter of his career, having just released his first album of original material in almost 20 years.
He is more used to performing in vast stadiums, somewhat removed from the audience, but appeared to have been re-energised by his return to songwriting and a more personal connection with the lyrics, all the better to come out swinging in this self-styled “global music colosseum”, modelled on ancient amphitheatres and resembling a spaceship or – to these eyes – the jaunty tilt of a Tammy bunnet.
Much has been made of the venue’s state-of-the-art technology, painstaking acoustic preparations, the wrap-around intimacy of its seating plan and enviable sightlines. So far, so impressive. But how would it measure up once arguably the most important ingredient – the world famous Glasgow audience – had been added?
Undeniably impressive as it turned out, with the high banks of seating providing a sense of scale and spectacle while the tight semi-circular layout served to create a communal atmosphere, with the surround view of fellow concert-goers. Rod’s response? “We made it! How’s it sounding? Cos I didn’t build it...”
There were no complaints from the crowd who would have brought the party anyway, even without the show’s (somewhat superannuated) concept of an energetic Motown revue, but Stewart did appear to be a man reborn, properly engaging with different sections of the audience, interacting with his dapper band, testing the spatial capacity of the venue by kicking signed footballs way into the crowd and making playful digs at Elton John’s inferior sales for his new album.
There were cheeky nods to the Rod lothario legend with a trio of blonde Amazons on brass and percussion and various leopardskin features, and nostalgia of a more misty-eyed hue on new songs Brighton Beach and Can’t Stop Me Now, which elicited huge cheers for the line “thanks for the tartan pride”.
The rest of the set skipped democratically about his back catalogue, only really avoiding his Great American Songbook recordings but finding space for the underrated Killing Of Georgie, parts 1 and 2.
Attention generally flagged when the backing singers or Stewart’s daughter Ruby deputised while he nipped offstage to “fluff his hair” and there was a hefty wedge of fromage, including Rhythm Of My Heart’s synthesized bagpipes, some bad Irish dancing on She Makes Me Happy and video footage of Stewart having a kickabout with himself.
But this was balanced out by string arrangements of The First Cut Is The Deepest and I Don’t Want To Talk About It, the immortal Maggie May and the lighter-waving Sailing – made for spaces such as this.