REVIEW: Rod Stewart: From Gasoline Alley To Another Country
Inverness Tulloch Caledonian Stadium
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by Margaret Chrystall
ROD Stewart’s two-hour 15-minute set in Saturday’s sun-warmed Caley Stadium began with Sam Cooke’s Having A Party and an optimistically high kick from the 71-year-old singer.
But the party had started long before as groups decked out in tartan hats, scarves, possibly having already enjoyed what the new Sir Rod would later call "a tipple or two" made their way to the ground by bus, taxi, car and – in the teatime sunshine – feet on the long, straight walk from Inverness town centre.
The Rod Stewart Fan Club had tweeted much earlier about a warm-up event from noon in the Raigmore Motel and as the start time drew near, dark-haired female piper Gillian Sutherland and her friends headed up a procession of walkers round to the stadium to the skirl of the pipes.
With The Mariachis (of Doritos’ TV ad fame) first on the bill, the party feel you get when you combine big hits like The Final Countdown and The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me with an up for it crowd guarantees a giggling singalong.
But with their country/Fleetwood Mac-cy feel, the black-clad Sisterhood featuring Rod’s long-legged, thigh-booted daughter Ruby Stewart and Alyssa Bonagura mellowed things down a little, the slanting sun harsh on the eyes from the right of the stage.
With a vocal introduction endorsing The Sisterhood from Rod himself, the crowd listened and – before the duo’s final own song Doors – were rewarded with their version of Rod’s Gasoline Alley, Ruby singing the lead on the song that gives her dad’s tour part of its name – From Gasoline Alley To Another Country.
And as the fading warmth from the sun began to reveal the chilly clear summer evening temperature in the stadium, the party atmosphere got another boost with a set of stageside pyros and suddenly Rob and his 12-piece band were there, firing into the set with Rod pulling his jacket tighter and looking a bit cold from the off.
By the time he introduced third song The Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine, Rod said: "It’s very nice to be back – who was here six years ago? – plenty from the roar – "I’m sure it was a lovely night. It’s a little chilly, but we’ll soon warm you up. Everyone wants to be here, it’s Saturday night – let’s enjoy!"
The female musicians and singers wore cream furry boleros over their sequined white dresses and were probably grateful for them. Before fourth song Love Is, Rod sketched out the length of set he’d planned, revealed the next song was from last album Another Country "which did very well, thank you very much" and joked: "And has anyone got a pullover?!"
And before Can’t Stop Me Now, in his persona from his and Elton’s "old tarts" days, he raked at his signature spiky hairdo with his fingers and laughed: "I don’t know why I bothered doin’ me hair tonight."
But at least the crowd was nicely warmed up for an evening that became all about the singalong – great in Maggie May, with Rod revealing at the endof the 19,000-ish crowd’s solo "That’s the first time ever an audience has sung a whole verse".
And alongside all the many, many classic songs of his own – and covers he has made his own, such as I Don’t Want to Talk About It – Rod looked back over his own personal history.
Can’t Stop Me Now was dedicated to his dad, Forever Young which saw the backdrop filled with touching family pictures – and his own heroes, such as Muddy Waters, remembered in the gutsy version of Rollin’ & Tumblin’ – and The Faces’ back catalogue featuring twice in Stay With Me and in the second set, Ooh La La.
Throughout, Rod’s energy was amazing – refreshed by frequent departures for costume changes and offstage to allow his hand-picked band to showcase their talents solo, such as with Tom Waits’ Downtown Train with Jimmy Roberts on sax. Though it was in that song that Rod descended into the pit to meet fans – and how naff was it that one set of ladies turned their back on him to get their selfie!
As in You’re In My Heart, he regularly fired out signed footballs with little sign, as he’d warned before Forever Young, that the "wind off the ocean is going to ruin some of my corner kicks and the edge off our voices, but we will enjoy it immensely". A white scarf was part of his red military jacket costume-change and at one point – after what only he seemed to hear as an off-note – he touched his hand to his throat and raised his eyebrows apologetically to a bandmate.
But there was nothing wrong with his voice in the acoustic section in the second set when a core of musicians sat around him on transparent chairs and Rod cracked open the heartbreak songs that bring the drama and the rasping pain pouring from his voice – especially in song of the night for me, The First Cut Is The Deepest.
Accompanied by a screen of brilliant flowers and the stunning harp solo intro from Julia Thornton, the crowd never sounded better either and the emotion continued into I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Rod introducing it as "an absolutely blinding song".
Baby Jane, some vintage strutting in Hot Legs, then J’anna Jacoby’s atmospheric mandolin intro to Purple Heather, and Sailing to end the show before Rod returned with Stetson, for Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.
One of the girls wore a woollie blue hat with Saltire, the bassist Conrad Korsch had a red tartan scarf wrapped round his head, the keyboard-player nicked a feathered mask from the girls’ first number outfit before wiping the drummer’s booth with a mop.
And though the party was over – it wasn’t totally over.
Sir Rod dangled a future invitation: "Thank you for a brilliant night. See you in three years!"