In the recent tradition of impressive package tours that have been making their way across the globe, one with plenty of star power just swept through our hometown. The Rod Stewart/Stevie Nicks "Heart & Soul" tour kicked off Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa on Wednesday night and gave all those in attendance more than their money's worth.
In every right a headliner herself, Stevie Nicks, former front-woman of the mega-successful 1970's lineup of Fleetwood Mac, took the stage first. Clad in all black, Nicks seemed joyous and eager to perform. It's been a while since Stevie has concentrated on her very successful solo career; she's spent more time focusing on Mac-related reunion projects and recordings. But Wednesday night it was all about Stevie doing what she does best as part of a supergroup or alone-captivating a rapt audience with her charm and her aura.
Opening with "Fall From Grace", a track from her 2001 release Trouble in Shangri-La, it was obvious that Stevie was in fine form and fine voice. Her unmistakable vocals resonated through the entire arena with clarity and force. Flanked by massive video screens on each side, her stage set was somewhat sparse. A large screen at the rear of the stage was used to flash dazzling light displays, the occasional clip from any one of Stevie's many music videos or quaint photo montages. Nicks' show was more centered around her impressive catalog of music and her presence.
Reaching back into her canon, the very loud and appreciative crowd was treated with Fleetwood Mac chestnuts ("Rhiannon", "Landslide"), classic solo hits ("Stand Back", "If Anyone Falls") as well as a preview of the forthcoming long-awaited solo album In Your Dreams ("Secret Love").
The loudest and most raucous responses came towards the end of her 80-minute set. Her signature song, 1981's "Edge of Seventeen" turned into an extended, full-tilt jam with longtime lead guitarist Waddy Wachtel squeezing out some pretty impressive licks. A Led Zeppelin cover ("Rock and Roll") took the crowd over the top. Nicks flawlessly switched gears from wispy ballads to this balls-out rocker like no one else can. Obviously impressed with the response she got all night, Nicks announced near the end of her set "You're the best audience...ever!". Here's hoping that with her upcoming new release, another Tampa Bay area stop will be part of a future solo tour.
As for Rod Stewart, his always over-the-top stage and presentation left little to be desired to his legions of (mostly female) fans. A massive curtain emblazoned with a take off on the old "Soul Train" graphics enveloped the stage as his band's gear was being set up. As the curtain dropped, an enormous shiny white platform was revealed boasting a 13-piece band including horn section, backup singers and percussionists. Rod Stewart never "sort of" does anything; whatever he does always seems to be done in grand fashion- a trait that has gained him as many detractors as it has followers.
Opening with a cover of the O'Jays 1973 soul classic "Love Train", Rod's signature raspy voice and playfulness were both very much alive and well. Strutting across the stage as he has for most of his long, illustrious career (well..maybe not at the same speed) Stewart, the consummate showman, oozed that trademark appeal that his fans have come to love him for. Looking slim and fit as ever, the 66-year old veteran looked particularly dapper in his black slacks and shirt and bright yellow silk blazer and matching tie.
Diving headfirst into his pool of chart-toppers, Stewart then launched into his 1976 sultry tale of seduction, "Tonight's The Night", turning it into an audience sing-along. Many more memorable tunes followed: "Young Turks", the Cat Stevens-penned "The First Cut Is The Deepest", etc. A slight snag was hit when a series of clunkers were performed all in a row: Stewart's take on the awful Bonnie Tyler hit from 1977 "It's A Heartache" (which, ironically, everyone thought was a Rod Stewart song upon it's release thanks to Tyler's similar raspy pipes) and a pair of lackluster 1980's hits "Forever Young" and "Rhythm Of My Heart".
The pace picked up again when Rod ripped into the Chuck Berry tune "Sweet Little Rock 'N' Roller" (from his 1974 Smiler album) and returned to the party vibe of the evening.
And as he and his impressive large band kept the pace up following with the rockers "Hot Legs" (complete with Rod kicking dozens of soccer balls into the crowd) and his first big hit "Maggie May" , the evening came to an all-too-soon close. The almost two-hour set seemed to fly by. The sole encore was a rushed, limp version of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?", Stewart's million-selling 1978 foray into disco music. An old Faces-era nugget would have personally been more welcomed, but hey, Rod Stewart has always been about pleasing the masses..and in that respect, you'd be hard pressed to find another entertainer who has consistently pleased his rabid fan base for the better part of four decades.