Rod Stewart and Steve Winwood, two giants of British rock, revealed their similarities and differences - and the reasons their respective popularities have ebbed and flowed since the mid-'60s - on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Stewart made his name with a raspy voice, R&B covers, self-penned folk-inspired tunes, and a stylistic palette running from disco and good old-fashioned rock-and-roll to even older-fashioned Tin Pan Alley classics.
Winwood has his own distinctive vocal style and has done everything from soul to progressive rock, weird jazz, blues, and middle-of-the-road pop.
Though Stewart has made his life's music all about the show, Winwood has made his show all about the music.
You could hardly call Winwood, 65, an opener, but his set commenced proceedings with the loose, jazzy "Secrets," from his most recent album, Nine Lives. From that song forward, whether sitting at the organ or punctuating his deeply grooving rhythms with stinging yet subtle guitar solos, he rearranged his catalog's highlights to suit his whims. "I'm a Man" became a soft Latin-percussion workout. "Dear Mr. Fantasy" was a slow blues. His voice was ageless and supple, and his set was strictly about the jam.
Stewart, 68, was equally kitchen-sink-y in his selection. Yet, with a set notably splashy in parts (during the haughty "Hot Legs," he kicked soccer balls into the audience), to say nothing of his suit changes, his kiss-blowing, and his sequin-covered, female-heavy band, Stewart's show came across like a main-room revue fresh from Las Vegas. That's a compliment. What other rough-edged crooner could put across the boudoir ballad "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" and also sing earnest love songs to English football ("You're in My Heart") and get away with it?
The show was oddly paced. The scuffed-up and tender "Have I Told You Lately" was next to a winsome "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" next to a handsome new song, "Brighton Beach," about youthful indiscretion, all done with strings provided by the Philadelphia Orchestra. But this wacky amalgam only highlighted Stewart's schmaltziness for the best.
Just to prove he could still rock as heartily as ever, Stewart broke out the big voice on the bluesy "I'd Rather Go Blind" and his grungy Lothario cackle on the flask-carrying romance of "Stay With Me."