CEDAR RAPIDS - With Rod Stewart, 70 is the new 40. The man truly is forever young.
And with his nearly sold-out show Friday night (7/24/15) at the U.S. Cellular Center, he's reclaimed the status of "best concert I've ever seen." He earned that honor with a 1994 gig at the Mark of the Quad Cities (now the iWireless Center) by looking like there's no place he'd rather be than Moline, Ill. He performed that night in the round, with a very simple stage placed in the center of the arena, kicking up the fun by launching soccer balls into the cheering crowd.
He held "favorite concert" status until Idina Menzel's sublime "Barefoot at the Symphony" show at the Des Moines Civic Center in 2012. She knocked Stewart off my top spot that night.
Stewart, however, upped the ante in Cedar Rapids by bringing nearly twice the number of semis and buses as most touring acts, treating 5,000 screaming fans to the most sensational, spectacular, spine-tingling, classy classic show imaginable.
He just never goes out of style.
All multimillion-dollar polish and panache, everything on the massive silver and white stage sparkled under an ever-changing kaleidoscope of saturated colors and vibrant videos - some nostalgic, others in moonlit cityscapes or hippy-trippy patterns evoking the mood of his hit parade.
The men in his musical entourage were clad in a very hipster silhouette of tight gray suits with a sheen, while the women changed from gold flapper-fringed dresses to silver sparkles then to black minis layered with fringe that shimmied as they sang backup or played timpani, violin, harp, saxes, trumpet and guitar.
As readily as he steps aside to let his musicians shine in astounding solo moments, Stewart just commands the spotlight. He dances, he prances, he smiles, he kicks autographed soccer balls into the far reaches of the arena. He waxes nostalgic talking and singing about the sacrifices of our military troops and wounded warriors, as well as paying tribute to his late father, Bob, who encouraged him 100 percent, even when industry doors were shutting in his face as embarked on a career stretching back to the early 1960s.
Some guys have all the luck. He's at his peak of physical and musical prowess. Still slim and trim, running his hands through his trademark blond spiky hair, he looks and sounds like he always has, wrapping his rasp around the lyrics on hit after hit, encouraging an entire arena of backup singers. When he cuts loose with "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" it's not sad. It's hot.
Opening with "It's a Heartache," the stalwart Stewart moved us through the decades, from 1972's "You Wear it Well" to 2013's "Can't Stop Me Now," an ode to the days when record producers didn't like his voice, his nose or the clothes he wore. Thank God he listened to his father, who gave him the wherewithal to persevere and become one of Britain's most celebrated exports.
We also were treated to "Love Is," a brand-new cut from an album still in the works. This sweet and spicy song features a fun blending of country vibes and rock 'n' roll vocals, with a little hoedown fiddle and banjo enveloping Biblical lyrics of love.
Every song was a highlight, but special nods go to "Tonight's the Night," with shimmering harp and violin and a sultry tenor sax solo; "Rhythm of My Heart" and its most emotional tribute to the armed forces and veterans, with stirring gospel wails from the three female backup singers; his theme song, "Forever Young"; the addition of seven local female string players adding violin, viola and cello to "The First Cut is the Deepest"; "The Killing of Georgie," his shattering anthem to a gay friend slain in New York City in 1975 - a song deemed so controversial that the BBC refused to air it; gorgeous strings adding to the dreamy romance of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You"; the Jerry Lee Lewis piano and Chuck Berry guitar of "Sweet Little Rock and Roller"; his backup singers who absolutely nailed "Proud Mary"; kicking soccer balls into the masses during "Stay With Me," a 1971 hit from his days with the British band Faces; "Maggie May," which brought him to his knees and fans to their feet; and of course, the utterly playful finale of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
Young Los Angeles foursome Runaway Saints opened the show with 30 minutes of alt-rock fronted by Johnny Gates, a singer so engaging that the crowd was clapping and singing along from the very first song. It was the perfect way to launch an evening of perfection.