By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Rod Stewart will return to Las Vegas next month for a two-month run at Caesars Palace.
But it might as well have started Sunday night. The British rock icon brought his Vegas show to Covelli Centre, saving Youngstowners the air fare.
Stewart — still slim and roguish at age 69 — played a solo concert at sold-out Covelli, just days after completing his co-headlining tour with Carlos Santana.
The stage had a smooth and shiny look for Stewart and his 13-person band. These included a trio of female backup singers at stage left, each wearing a tight silver-spangled dress and stilettos and moving in unison throughout the night. A similar trio handled percussion and strings.
A high-definition screen above the stage showed closeups, and a slick LED backdrop pulled the package together with artsy visuals and photos of Stewart from his 40-plus year career.
So production values were high for the pricey concert.
Stewart came out clad in a white jacket (a flower on his lapel), white shirt and skinny tie — loosened of course. It was the first of three outfits that he and his girls would wear.
Rumors that Stewart’s famous raspy voice had grown a tad frail proved untrue. Stewart’s voice was suprisingly strong — booming, in fact — but also expressive and nuanced when it counted.
The hour and 40-minute show was more Vegas than rock concert, and it never sagged. It included 18 of his hits, but nothing from his 2013 album “Time.”
The band ably captured the sound made famous decades ago, including the edgy guitar in “Stay With Me” and the mandolin at the end of “Maggie May.”
Sunday’s concert was Stewart’s first time in Youngstown, and he acknowledged it, praising the audience’s enthusiasm.
The night started with “Infatuation,” “Having a Party” and “You Wear It Well.”
A seven-person string section comprised of Youngstown-area players was ushered on stage for a mellow segment that included “Rhythm of My Heart,” “Forever Young,” “First Cut Is the Deepest” and “Have I Told You Lately.”
Each of the backup singers showed off their pipes at the end of “Rhythm,” and later in a Tina Turner-esque take on “Proud Mary,” which Stewart sat out.
“Forever Young” segued into a long percussion breakdown that took on a samba spirit.
Another unique moment was the harp solo in “The First Cut.” Those show girls were talented.
In addition to “Stay With Me,” Stewart did a second song by his famed ’70s band, Faces, which included guitarist Ronnie Wood. He dedicated “Ooh La La” (“I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now”) to the late Ronnie Lane, Faces bassist.
Stewart actually gave credence to the recurring rumors of a Faces reunion. “For all of you hoping for [it], don’t give up,” he said. “A Faces reunion is going to be in the cards if it’s the last thing I do.”
As usual, Stewart kicked soccer balls into the audience during “Hot Legs,” clanging a couple off of the speakers hanging near the stage.
The set ended with “Maggie May,” which Stewart introduced as “the song that made me famous.”
For the all-in-good-fun encore of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” the entire band performed shoulder-to-shoulder across the stage while the audience batted at balloons that rained down from the rafters.
The screen flashed an old cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a quote from Stewart: “I don’t want to be singing ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ when I’m 50 and become a parody of myself.”
Stewart was never particularly proud of the 1978 disco song, which, in retrospect, was a little too in the moment. But the old rocker-turned-showman not only owned it, but put it in perspective.