Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
Singing along to the Faces song, “Stay with Me,” along with a packed Etess Arena in Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel, I could not help but think of my wife’s parents slow dancing to “You’re in My Heart” at weddings. Or her whole family was doing barbeque sing-alongs to “Maggie May” around a patio table in the summers. Surfing a wave of nostalgia, I had this epiphany. I had a lot of fond memories with Rod Stewart as the soundtrack and enjoyed more of his discography than I had ever given credence to.
I have known my wife since Elementary School. We have been the best friends since Junior High and dated off and on from High School until 2005, when we finally got married before our friends and family. During that entire time of knowing my Mother-in-law, I have mercilessly teased her about her fandom for Stewart. I had nothing personal against him, mind you. His songs were omnipresent growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, both on radio & MTV (Back when they played music on television, Kids.). I just thought it was silly that this woman I had always known to be kind, sensible, and not nearly as verbose as people in my big New York family would have some semblance of adoration for this artist who I saw as looking like Paul Stanley without the makeup but wearing Bowie’s Labyrinthwig. And with that, my adolescent self had difficulty reconciling his braggadocious spit takes on his sexual conquests. It was easy for me to dismiss him as a result. My mom played more of The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, which I always considered my childhood music staples that could take me to more manageable and safer places in my mind when heard today.
With that, you can imagine the ribbing I was anticipating from my in-laws when they heard I was going to the Hard Rock Hotel to review Stewart’s The Hits tour stop on August 19th. However, it was an opportunity to reciprocate the many years of dealing with my adolescent shenanigans and earn “Best Son-in-Law, ever” status (Editing Note: I am the only Son-in-Law in the family.), so I extended the invite to come along for the show.
As the curtain rose and Stewart’s band took the stage, the night started with a cover of Robert Palmer‘s “Addicted to Love.” In proper form for Sir Rod, many onstage were young female musicians. However, before your eyeroll reading that observation, please note that is where any outdated misogyny ended; these fresh-faced artists were doing everything from playing the harp or violin to synchronized dance numbers. Simply eye-candy, they were not. It allowed Stewart to remain on brand while paying it forward to a new generation of talent.
I was continually gobsmacked by the sheer energy this legendary musician of 77 years of age emanated. Going through early songs like the Faces hit “Oooh La Lato” and more modern Billboard chart-toppers like “Forever Young” and “Young Turks,” Stewart moved, danced, sang, and even ran from corner to corner & everywhere in between on stage. He ensured that everyone in the sold-out arena got due and proper facetime for their admission.
During the acoustic chapter of his show, “Rod the Mod” broke out and dusted off gems like “Tonight’s The Night” and the Van Morrison cover, “Have I Told You Lately;” an excellent callback to the sensational Rod Stewart: Unplugged performance and subsequent album, recorded live.
Stewart and friends finished the night with “Hot Legs” and the aforementioned classic, “Stay with Me,” where I found myself still lost in all the memories this show kicked up in a flurry of my frontal lobe. I looked over at my wife and her mother. Too busy clapping and taking pictures, she could not feel the weight of my stare, but rest assured she deserved the smile and wink I had in the chamber.
What started as a tongue-in-cheek night out with someone I have known for longer than I HAVEN’T in my life became an eye-opening experience. I was thoroughly entertained. I knew and enjoyed more songs than I had ever realized and have since added more Stewart to my library. I was blown away by Stewart’s expert showmanship. Moreover, there is no line distinguishing my life’s memories with my family versus times with my wife’s. I have had such great moments growing up around these people. My in-laws display the blueprint of how a successful partnership works; two people working 100% of their bandwidth for the success and leisure of the unit. These are all great things to have music rise to the top of my thoughts and feelings, and I had this show to reconcile that I was hyper-focused in the moment.
Stewart finished the night with the quintessential kicks of Manchester United soccer balls into the crowd as the lights went up; everyone fighting their way back into the casino had a smile (that is how you should leave every show).
My only criticism is with the Hard Rock Hotel’s Etess Arena and their lack of accommodations for the press. Each time I review a show at the venue, I keep my fingers crossed that this will be the time I can do my job accordingly. Yet, unlike every other venue in the Delaware Valley, their standards and practices do not make for easy maneuverability and zero access to the front for quality photos unless you are using long-range equipment. That withstanding, my takeaways of the show, the performer, the songs, and the divine reflection of my life made the proverbial juice worth the squeeze.
Some guys may have all the luck, but not many guys my age can return to a street, a home, a family, and a playlist from their youth and relive a more exact and safer time.
I can, while eating every sweet gherkin pickle in the fridge and singing along to “Maggie May.”