Music

‘Maggie May’ saves Rod Stewart concert in St. Petersburg Paul

“I think you’ll like this next one,” Rod Stewart told the faithful Friday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “It’ll be the last time you hear this.”

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Indeed, after a career stretching seven decades, the veteran Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is in the midst of his last North American trek in which he’ll play a catalog of his hits. He’s not retiring, but the 77-year-old promises future tours will be devoted to the Great American Songbook.

The number he was introducing for the last time on Friday was his breakthrough 1971 solo hit, “Maggie May.” A sad song about a young man hurt by his older seducer, it’s been transformed into a karaoke classic and something of a drinking song. On Friday, Sir Rod began at a slow tempo, pausing between phrases to emphasize the pain of youthful romance. As his band joined in, he picked up the pace, belting the lyrics like a heartfelt, heartbroken, confused school boy. Because he’s Rod Stewart perpetual bon vivant, he danced a bit, led a clap along, swayed his hips and announced, “Here comes the mandolin.” Never one to sit still even during a ballad, he kicked his legs, waltzed with the mic stand, shook his booty and, at the end, kept repeating “Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face.” A young heart scarred for life.

And the crowd responded like it was the last time they’d ever see that face, with its prominent beak and rooster hair, deliver one of rock’s all-time classics.

“Maggie May” turned around what had been a here-to-fore disappointing concert. The show had been too busy and too garish, as if staged by Baz Luhrmann. “Forever Young” became forever long thanks to an unnecessary “River Dance”-like tap dance and fiddle-and-drum segment in the middle. Later on, “Young Turks” got hijacked by the refrain of “America” ​​from “West Side Story.”

More importantly, early in the concert, Stewart’s raspy voice seemed to be fading away, as if dulled by sandpaper. On the Motown duet, “It Takes Two,” his vocal partner obliterated him. On the Sam Cooke classic “Having a Party,” Stewart missed his opening cue to start singing not once but twice. It felt like this concert was going to be the same kind of letdown that his last St. Paul gig, in 2018, was.

It was time to get the Baz out on Friday, to jettison the glitzy Vegas-y backup singers and let Stewart truly focus on singing instead of simply playing the Rock Star, a role he’s always performed at Oscar level.

On “I’d rather Go Blind,” the Etta James chestnut, Stewart fell to his knees, finding his inner bluesman and undying determination. He underscored his skills as a soulful balladeer on a five-song sit-down acoustic set, featuring an inspiring “People Get Ready” (with images of Martin Luther King on the backdrop) and the romantic trio of “Tonight’s the Night,” ” You’re in My Heart” and “Have I Told You Lately.”

Before the latter tune, Stewart talked about meeting its songwriter, Van Morrison, for the first time recently at a benefit concert in London. The cantankerous Morrison has a reputation for being standoffish, but Stewart said the Irishman knocked on his dressing room door, wouldn’t stop talking and thanked Stewart for being “able to build a swimming pool” with royalties from his hit.

While Stewart likes a good joke, he can turn serious, as he demonstrated dedicating “Rhythm of My Heart” to people in Ukraine and briefly discussing the situation there. But, he also likes to rock. And he sent the crowd home with the rolling “Hot Legs” (during which he tossed and kicked soccer balls to fans) and the rambunctious, care-free rocker “Stay with Me.”

The memories of Stewart’s 110-minute farewell-to-the-hits concert in St. Paul will stay with those 8,500 fans for a long time.

Opening the evening was Cheap Trick, the Rock Hall of Famers who have turned into something of a family band. Original members singer Robin Zander and guitarist Rick Nielsen have been joined by their sons Robin Taylor Zander on guitar and Dax Nielsen on drums; Tom Petersson is the longtime bassist. As a quintet, the band sounded noisier than ever, delivering a trippy treatment of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and winning renditions of their own hits “I Want You To Want Me” and “Surrender.”

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