Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Since he became little more than a glorified Vegas lounge act years ago, it seems more and more difficult to remember when Rod Stewart provided a bona fide rock star presence. I used to be a moderate fan of Rod’s work; indeed, his March 1982 concert in DC was one of my very earliest ventures to a live arena, and I enjoyed the show very much.
I continued to dig Rod’s performances for a few years after that, but eventually I grew tired of them. I think the last one I saw was in the mid-Nineties and it just left me cold. I can’t really say why this occurred, but I think I felt Stewart did little more than continue to trot out the same songs with the same presentation. It all seemed to go nowhere, and he didn’t display the same dynamic and lively personality I once liked.
Of course, many would claim that Rod had declined radically well before I saw him in 1982, and those folks are probably right. With excellent albums like Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story, Stewart created some heartfelt and impressive material in the late Sixties and early Seventies. However, success apparently corrupted him, as he soon became tawdry and self-indulgent with cheesy junk like “Hot Legs” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Rod still seemed pretty entertaining much of the time, but he entered a state of creative mediocrity from which I don’t think he ever recovered. He displayed the occasional spark - such as his fine 1985 cover of “People Get Ready” from Jeff Beck’s Flash album - but those moments were tempered by inane tripe like “Love Touch”, a song so terrible that even the shameless Stewart tried to disassociate himself from it.
On this DVD release of Rod Stewart and Faces: The Final Concert, we find Rod at a point between the stellar early years and the later period of bloated success. As Stewart pursued a solo career, he also maintained a place in the Faces, a pub rock band whose membership included some folks who would become better known as replacement parts in other bands. Even before this November 1975 concert, guitarist Ron Wood toured with the Rolling Stones due to the departure of Mick Taylor, himself the replacement for original member Brian Jones. Drummer Kenney Jones hooked up with the Who in 1979 following the death of Keith Moon. Wood remains a part of the Stones, but Jones’ stint with the Who ended after their 1982 “Farewell” tour; when the band regrouped for tours in 1989, 1996, and subsequent years, they used drummers other than Jones. (Faces pianist Ian McLagan also worked with the Stones at times, but unlike Wood, he never became a member of the band.)
The Faces died for a couple of reasons. When Mick Taylor submitted his resignation in the Stones, they tried out a few different guitarists - including Jeff Beck, the former employer of Stewart and Wood in his Jeff Beck Group - but Woody seemed like the best fit. Actually, I’ve heard that the Stones considered Wood as the replacement for Jones in 1969, but I’m not sure if that’s true.
In any case, Ron clearly wanted to stay with the Stones, and Stewart’s huge success as a solo act allowed that to occur. Despite the title of this DVD, the band never went by “Rod Stewart and Faces”; they were just the Faces. However, his popularity clearly overshadowed the band in the group’s last few years, and I doubt the other members eagerly embraced the concept of existing as little more than Rod’s backing musicians.
Make no mistake - that possibility seems evident from the set list for this DVD. It includes 12 songs, and most of those appeared on Stewart’s solo records. Bizarrely, only one of the numbers came from a Faces record: “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything”. Otherwise, all the tracks emanated from Stewart records except for “Take a Look At the Guy” and “I Can Feel the Fire”, which appeared on Wood’s solo album I’ve Got My Own Record to Do. Granted, Faces played on a lot of those Stewart tracks, but it still seems odd that this concert would include so little from the band’s formal repertoire.
From what I understand, both Stewart and Wood were reluctant to break up the Faces. Neither wanted to be “the one” to pull the plug, but when they realized they both wanted out, the end drew near. Technically, this 1975 concert doesn’t represent the absolute final performance of the Faces. They regrouped on one occasion, during the encore for 1986 Stewart show at Wembley Stadium. This included original bassist Ronnie Lane, who was too ill at the time to play that instrument, but he did sing along with the songs. (Lane developed multiple sclerosis and died from it in 1997, but he left the Faces over non-medical issues; they replaced him with Tetsu Yamauchi.)
Chronologically, the show may occur as Stewart made the jump from earnest Scottish soul rasper to international sex symbol, but from the look of it, he already was well on his way to the latter status. Rod offers the main focus of the concert, as he prances and preens his way across the stage from start to finish. I could have lived without a lot of this. Rod seems more than a little stuck on himself as we waggles his ass, and the camera crew are more than happy to accommodate, as they zoom in on the singer’s posterior with excessive frequency.
On the positive side, at least Rod provides a dynamic presence, and his voice sounds quite good. He can be a very erratic singer live, as his voice tends to give out fairly easily while on tour. He presents fine vocals throughout the concert and demonstrates his usual enthusiasm. Again, he seems a little too in love with himself much of the time, but at least he put on a lively performance. Faces were known as a sloppy band, but they seem fine musically during this show. Mistakes occur, of course, but the concert captures them on a good night, and they provide solid renditions of the songs.
One nice aspect of the concert stems from the simplicity of its presentation. Few nods were made to create a huge farewell show. If this event took place today, I’m sure they’d use some mega-production along with scads of superfluous guest stars. For the most part, Faces kept things basic for the concert.
However, some special musical elements appear. One seems positive, and the other feels more negative. In the latter domain, a string section accompanies the band for many numbers. This fits some of the songs, but it appears odd for a boozy and loose pub rock band like Faces to use such a touch; it sticks out like an amputated thumb.
More positively, one “name” guest star arrives on stage: Keith Richards. He fits in nicely with the band and demonstrates the rapport with Wood that would help usher in a late-Seventies resurgence for the Stones. Keith plays on three songs: “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”, “I’d Rather Go Blind”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away”.
Final omits a moderate chunk of the show’s set list. I couldn’t find the specific run-down for this show, but Faces concerts of that era usually included about 16 songs. It seems odd that “Stay With Me”, one of their most enduring tunes - Rod continues to use it during his live shows - fails to make the cut.
Nonetheless, I’m happy to have The Final Concert available. I’m a lukewarm fan of Rod Stewart and the band, but it’s fun to see them at work, especially since not many archival performances like this exist in the public domain. I don’t think Final will earn Faces any new fans, but existing ones should enjoy it.
Note that parts of this DVD mess up the song titles. The sleeve gets most of them correct, though it mistitles “I Can Feel the Fire” as “I Can Feel Your Fire”. The “Song Selection” makes the most mistakes. It states that “It’s All Over Now” is called “Used to Love Her”, while it refers to “I’d Rather Go Blind” as “Don’t Wanna Be Free”. Lastly, instead of “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything”, it names the song “Your Song (Keep On Runnin’ Away)”.