The veteran singer dusts off the cobwebs with a hit-heavy set at the Oydssey Arena in Belfast
When we come to look back on 2013, most people will view the last 12 months as the year of the so-called 'heritage' acts. Nostalgia is the main money spinner in the music industry these days, and the old guard are taking full advantage.
Black Sabbath have recently notched up their first number one album since the 1970s. The Rolling Stones headline this year's Glastonbury for the first time, and the Who are touring the globe in support of the 40-year anniversary of their career-defining rock opera, Quadrophenia. Nowadays, it seems the phrase 'wrinkly rocker' has taken on an aspirational tone, and there are plenty of acts happy to reap the rewards.
The increasingly Dorian Gray-like Rod Stewart is one such act. Off the back of his extremely successful memoir, Stewart is currently touring new album, Time – which, much to the appreciation of his legion fans, features 11 original compositions – and stops off in Belfast for a two-night, sold out stint at the Odyssey Arena.
This, of course, is no mean feat, given that the likes of pop juggernauts Britney Spears and Cheryl Cole could barely half fill the same venue on recent visits. Perhaps they're just not wrinkly enough.
Opening with 'This Old Heart Of Mine', the suspiciously spritely Stewart looks genuinely pleased to be here and, judging by the raucous reaction of the crowd, the feeling is most certainly mutual.
While his trademark gravelly vocals are a little laboured during the first number, Stewart dusts off the cobwebs for the second tune, 'You Wear It Well', treating Belfast to one of the finest pop rock songs ever written. The white jacket-clad 68-year-old has every word sang back to him.
With opening number jitters banished, the consumate entertainer welcomes his audience in his usual conversational manner. Suddenly, I feel like I'm having tea and biscuits over at Uncle Rod's house. 'I've had another child since I saw you last,' he smiles. 'There will be no more on the way though. I've put me cue back in the rack.'
The soulful yet saucy 'Tonight's the Night' follows – and here Stewart's backing band show just how good they are – while the only performer to hit a bum note during 'Rhythm Of My Heart' is the singer himself, which he laughs off afterwards as he sheepishly hugs one of his backing singers.
Although this evening's show is an unashamed (and welcome) walk down memory lane, Stewart is officially on tour in support of his new album, his first number one record (in the UK) since 1976. He introduces 'Can't Stop Me Now' in a self-depreciating manner: 'I know no-on wants to hear new songs'. Yet the track is a heartfelt tribute to his late father which the crowd greatly appreciates, as old photos are shown on the huge video screen downstage. There are more than a few tears in the aisles.
A stripped-back, unplugged section follows, with the irresistible lament 'I Don't Want To Talk About It' an obvious highlight of the night. Here, Stewart squeezes every last drop of emotion from the lyrics, despite having performed it thousands of times in the past (take note, pop juggernauts), while the flawless, evergreen 'Maggie May' brings the house down from the very first note.
Sadly the likes of 'Young Turks' and his cover of Tom Waits' 'Downtown Train' don't make the two-hour set, but 'Baby Jane' and 'Hot Legs' make up for these omissions, and the crowd lap them up. Signing off with 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?', the screens behind Stewart show the quote 'I don't want to still be singing 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' in my 50s', taken from a Rolling Stone interview way back when.
It's nice to know that the veteran singer doesn't take himself too seriously. These days, heritage acts are more than happy to give audiences what they want. More power to them.