Music review: Rod Stewart, O2, London

Rod the Mod, 68, doesn't shy away from singing 'Da Ya Think I’m Sexy'

When Rod Stewart puts a tentative hand to his throat, an action magnified on the huge video screen, you wonder if his voice might finally blow. Having admitted to suffering the effects of a six-week virus, the old stager's volume wavers and he often finds himself swamped by a well-drilled band.

When Stewart flits backstage, though, it is only to be replaced by a group of female percussionists in leopard skin for a surreal interlude in "Forever Young". If the bouffant-haired rocker needs breathers, he displays enough panache to make the interludes almost seamless. Such Vegas-style showmanship overshadows the chance to mark Stewart’s recent purple patch. Time, his first album of self-penned material in 15 years, has shot to the number one spot, the veteran artist’s muse reignited by working on last year’s well-received memoir, Rod.

Yet on a stage that gleams intensely under the lights filled by a band with fixed smiles, a celebratory air carries the day. Stewart boots footballs far into the arena, brings a couple of his younger kids on stage to dance and dedicates "Forever Young" to murdered soldier Lee Rigby. He draws fitfully on new material with varying results. His paean to an early affair, "Brighton Beach", is warmly touching and honest, while the folk-rocking "It’s Over", tackling divorce, comes with the voice of hard-earned experience. These autobiographical numbers balance his more matey tendencies, with "Finest Woman" a lacklustre bar-room boogie redolent of his bland eighties period and making the whiskery "Hot Legs" sound vital.

Rod the Mod struggles on soul belters and rock 'n' roll standards, with the crowd more than happy to fill in on "I Don’t Want To Talk About It", one of those numbers that remind us Stewart has always had a sharp ear for a decent tune he can make his own. The set’s two highlights, though, are mainly his own work, the raggle-taggle swagger of "Maggie May" remains intact, complete with mandolin, solo, after the singer perches at the edge of the stage for an intimate "Killing Of Georgie" – the tale of a murdered gay man “banned in ‘77”, he tell us proudly. Literal projections for some individual numbers prove distracting, though for "Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?" the self-deprecating Stewart displays an old quote about refusing to play the disco smash at 50 and becoming “a parody of myself”. As the party closes, we warm to its host all the more.

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