The “Heart & Soul” tour, a pairing of Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks, is pure nostalgia, a valentine for the middle-aged and what they listened to from 1976 to 1978. Not a judgment, just a fact. But the really outmoded part about the concert is that the link between them is the radio.
Remember the radio? We submitted to it completely. It made the connections for us. Besides Los Angeles, teased blond hair and a tremendous talent for the exaggerated courtly stage bow, what Mr. Stewart and Ms. Nicks really have in common is that they are singer-songwriters, articulating consciousness through words and melody, and they are fundamentally different at that job.
Ms. Nicks, 62, who performed first at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, is the goddess of indirection. “Do you know what this is?” she sang in “Love Is.” “No I don’t/but whatever it is/it’s very powerful.” This could be her organizing principle. The referents of her lyrics flicker in and out; she suddenly omits the subject of a sentence, asks a rhetorical question or moves from first to third person without warning. Most pop songwriters don’t do this anymore. But Ms. Nicks is a woman who can put on a black shawl, raise her arms and spin, and the audience roars. Whatever that is, it’s very powerful.
Wednesday’s set was a tight group of greatest hits, so there was “Edge of Seventeen”: “Just like the white winged dove/sings a song, sounds like she’s singing.” And “Sorcerer”: “All around black ink darkness/and who found the lady from the mountains?” Who or what is like the dove? Who did find the lady? Essentially it’s you: the listener and her own experiences fill the gap between what is to be understood and what is not.
Ms. Nicks’s voice narrowed a long time ago, forcing her to write melodic detours away from the upper register, but her sound and phrasing remain the same. She drones and under-enunciates, the better to be misunderstood, and with several band members who have been a constant for decades — the guitarist Waddy Wachtel and the percussionist Lenny Castro — she fitted the songs to the audience’s memory.
People forget that Mr. Stewart, now 66, is a songwriter: he’s been privileging people’s material for so long and so effectively — not just the last decade of his Great American Songbook albums, but also his previous covers of the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Tim Hardin, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and others. Let’s treat it all as one project. He seems to.
As opposed to Ms. Nicks, there’s usually a straight-forward narrative in Mr. Stewart’s songs and the ones he chooses to cover; there’s also very little wondering or regret. As for love, he hungers, consumes, dispatches. Sometimes he fails: oh, well. (He’s good at cheery leave-takings: “Maggie Mae,” “Forever Young.”) He sees no crystal visions.
Mr. Stewart’s voice is pretty damaged, too, sometimes dropping beneath the line of audibility as his longer set wore on, swerving away from high notes and turning to a wheeze. But of course he’s had a rough voice forever, and the whole point of Rod Stewart is finessing a light engagement with one’s own material. In a succession of bright raw-silk jackets, he swiveled and high-stepped just enough to convey that he was having an all-right time, while his band and production provided the rest: a rugged rhythm section, tall female soloists in red dresses (on trumpet, tenor saxophone and fiddle), and a stage like an enormous mid-’60s television show set, clean and beautifully lit.
The stars performed two songs together, unexcitingly, during Mr. Stewart’s set — his “Young Turks,” her “Leather and Lace.” But whereas Ms. Nicks remained her own entity, Mr. Stewart traced his enthusiasms to and connections for what came before and around him. He sang songs by Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry and Hardin and Mr. Waits, and repped once again for the Celtic Football Club, as he’s been doing since the early ’70s. It’s unclear who’s heart and who’s soul. But it is clear who’s an idol and who’s a fan.
The “Heart & Soul” tour continues on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago and on Sunday at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit; rodstewart.com. This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.
Ben Ratliff / New York Times / Saturday, April 9, 2011