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Pop: Rod Stewart, cool? Well, almost...




I LAST saw Rod in the late Seventies, when I was 13 and he was at his most decadently naff. Perma-tanned, clad in black satin and leopard skin, he belted out hits from the Do You Think I'm Sexy? album, waggling his bony bum to the audience. Even at that tender age, I knew never to mention that night I spent with Rod to new friends, vowing to take my dark secret to the grave.

And then, all of a sudden, Rod releases When We Were The New Boys, a covers album of quite cool tracks, and the hitherto savage music press wants to be best mates with him. In fact, Rod's recuperation into the ranks of the mentionable began a while back, when he made the astute move of covering Tom Waits songs rather than Tom Jones numbers. The old rocker we'd all thought would turn into Peter Stringfellow but with songs, surprised us by turning instead into a respectable option for a night out.

Rod chose Glasgow to begin this comeback tour. He is Glasgow's favourite adopted son and they welcomed himwith every tartan accessory imaginable, Celtic team strips, Scottish flags and an atmosphere like the best Hogmanay party. He didn't let them down.

The two-and-a-half-hour set begins with a warm-up tape - snatches of "I'm Getting Married in the Morning", "Rock the Kasbah", "Addicted to Love", "Maybe it's Because I'm a Londoner" - which has the crowd near riot with disapproval - and Harry Lauder's "I belong to Glasgow", which quickly restores things. This sets the tone for the night: a mix of serious rocking, self-parody and wearing of hearts on sleeves.

This mix, when held together by a voice as good as Rod's and tracks as strong as his best, is unbeatable. The difference these days is that it's the voice that's the star, not the glitzy outfits, cheesy bands or, heaven help us, his arse (although there's a smattering of all three). The best moments are the most pared down - the running together of the Tom Waits song, "Waltzing Matilda" and "I Don't Want to Talk About it" - and the most rocked up, like "Stay With Me", "Maggie May" and, unlikely though it sounds, "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" given the camp, ironic treatment it's long cried out for.

But let's not get carried away. The band still delivers muscular, rocktastic workouts, Rod's outfits still veer towards the comical (who else could sing love songs in a pork-pie hat, red-and-white polka-dot shirt, black spangly trousers and yellow socks?) and he has no idea what to do when he's not singing - he has someone feeding him footballs to kick out to the crowd during the instrumental bits. And on the first night of the tour, he's clearly nervous. "Well, it's the home crowd," he explains, to yet another roar of Glaswegian approval. For once, Rod has nothing to be nervous about; his new-found respectability is both long overdue and well deserved. He wears it rather well.

Elisabeth Mahoney