- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Sure, you can dress up the old tom cat in a tux and silk tie… even prod him into singing like Frank Sinatra. But strip away that thin veneer of respectability, and he’s the same old alley cat — struttin’ about like a bantam rooster and bellowin’ songs like “Hot Legs” and lustin’ after strong drink and loose women.

Credit Rod Stewart, looking relatively fit and lively at 59, for cleaning up his act for at least a portion of his Thursday night concert at the MCI Center. Following intermission, he doffed the red and orange denim outfits and reappeared in a dapper, long-tailed tux to croon half a dozen or so numbers from his two massive-selling “Great American Songbook” albums, collections of classic, orchestrated pop songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s.

But it wasn’t long before he was back at it, wiggling his bum at the girls in the front row, doing the bump and grind with his backup singers and launching soccer balls halfway to kingdom come.

The show’s first set was dominated by ballads, including many of his best: Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest,” Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” and his self-penned “You Wear It Well.”

The main problem was the lack of rockers. When the band did cut loose — most notably on “Stay with Me” and the aforementioned “Hot Legs,” Mr. Stewart was terrific, proving there’s still plenty of fire in the old engine room.

The big treat of the evening was the post-intermission, sentimental journey back to Tin Pan Alley and points north.

As Rod eased into the opening bars of the immortal “As Time Goes By,” the videoscreens above ran film clips of “Casablanca,” mixing rapid-fire images of Bogey, Bergman and Stewart — odd bedfellows perhaps, but Rod’s reportedly had a few of those in his day. He then sashayed into “These Foolish Things” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” featuring overhead visuals of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Mr. Stewart kept the hits coming with “Tonight’s the Night” and “Have I Told You Lately.” Then it was back to the “American Songbook” albums and a tune he introduced as “quite probably the most perfect love song ever written: ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’” Mr. Stewart did it justice, giving it the right amount of sentimental warmth without getting maudlin.

After ducking off stage for yet another wardrobe change, our slightly tarnished star was back in a pale yellow smoking jacket and tie for “Maggie Mae” before closing with one of his most popular and disparaged hits, the disco-era “Do You Think I’m Sexy.”

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