Rod Stewart Thrills at L.A. Club Show: Live Review

"I think I'm Rod Stewart." Those were the first words uttered to the audience at the iconic rocker's semi-private concert on Thursday (April 25) at Los Angeles' legendary Troubadour club; the 10-song set (and one reprise) that followed was much more declarative.

Stewart, of course, isn't usually one for small nightclubs: he's more likely to be caught performing at venues 40 times the capacity, a point he made explicit midway through the show, before launching into "Finest Woman," off his upcoming new album, "Time," due out May 7 on Capitol. "We're playing at the Troubadour instead of the Staples Center – now you know why," he exclaimed. "It's more fun here!"

A superstar like Stewart choosing to perform in such an historic yet small setting served two purposes: Thursday evening was Stewart's first time playing the Troubadour, linking him to the storied hideaway of legends like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, and Elton John, among others. At the same time, the event demonstrated Stewart's 21st-century savvy: it was the kickoff for various digital strategies promoting "Time's" international marketing juggernaut – from a social-media contest that flew winners from all over the world to see the show, to a filmed broadcast destined to appear on YouTube and VEVO this Saturday in numerous key markets around the world. Truly, however, it was the perfect setting to highlight this particular phase of Stewart's career – one that shows him, at 68, performing at the height of his powers on the eve of releasing his 28th (!) studio album.

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To a hand-picked audience of just 300 – including industry heavyweights like AEG Live CEO/President Randy Phillips and Stewart manager Arnold Stiefel  – Stewart played an artful selection from his catalogue that proved simultaneously crowd-pleasing and unpredictable, showcasing six new tracks off "Time" and absolutely nothing off "Great American Songbook," his smash five-volume series of albums interpreting standards that reenergized Stewart's popularity in the 2000s. "When you hear the new ones, clap like you've heard them many times," deadpanned Stewart to introduce "Time's" standout track, "Can't Stop Me Now" – the first of many such dryly witty ad-libs. He needn't have worried: despite the newness of the song, much of the crowd was roaring along to its uplifting chorus as if it was already a classic from Stewart's repertoire.

That was due to Stewart's arena-scaled charisma, which at times nearly overwhelmed the room, displaying no signs that his status as the consummate rock star was anywhere near slowing. Indeed, as he ripped into his perennial 1988 Billboard top 20 hit "Forever Young," it became clear how self-realizing a title that's become. Sporting a black-and-white striped shirt, matching two-toned creepers, and the skinniest of skinny jeans, Stewart slinked elastically across the stage with revitalized abandon: grinning like a naughty schoolboy, executing expert leg kicks, shamelessly wagging his ass and gyrating rhythmically with his three expert, animated, gorgeous backup singers, all sporting little black dresses. Stewart turned the proceedings into a wonderfully personal celebration, shouting out his children and family members watching from the wings and dedicating "Finest Woman" to his wife, Penny.

Throughout, Stewart engaged warmly with his fans (a number of whom were wearing the colors of Stewart's beloved soccer team Celtic Football Club, whose logo was emblazoned, naturally, on the main kit bass drum). The crowd lapped up his familiar hits like "You Wear It Well" and favorites like his cover of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately," which proved even more soulful in this reading. Those in attendance seemed just as appreciative of Stewart's more recent material, however, and with good reason: his deep personal connection was made vivid in emotional readings of "Time" tracks like the wrenchingly beautiful divorce ballad "It's Over" and the wistfully nostalgic "Brighton Beach." Stewart's signature smoky rasp has always been one of popular music's great wonders, but on these new songs it displayed a richness that seemed commensurate with his emotional investment in them.

For all its depth, though, Stewart's performance could also be processed as just purely enjoyable fun: leading the big rollicking, uplifting sound his crack backing musicians created, he demonstrated how real rock and roll can also serve as sheer entertainment, and vice versa. If anything, the show suggested the possibility that, in fact, maybe it's not just blondes that have more fun – if Stewart's renewed mojo is any indication, silver foxes at the peak of their powers might just give them a run for their money.

Here is the set list from Rod Stewart's Apr. 25 performance:

1.    Can't Stop Me Now
2.    Forever Young
3.    It's Over
4.    Rhythm of My Heart
5.    Finest Woman
6.    You Wear It Well
7.    She Makes Me Happy
8.    Have I Told You Lately
9.    Brighton Beach
10.     Sexual Religion