Rod Stewart, Sheffield Arena

Sheffield Arena
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As expected, the question on Rod Stewart's lips is, Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? The 57-year-old rocker's second wife, Rachel Hunter, who dumped Stewart for reportedly spending too much time with his train sets, doesn't appear to think so. Nor does Stewart's old label, Warners, which parted company with the singer complaining he no longer had appeal for younger people. Stewart's current item, 31-year-old Penny Lancaster, might have something to say about that one, however.

From the early drink-soaked gigs with the Faces to his herculean pursuit of blondes, Stewart has always been thought of as rock's ultimate bloke's bloke. A female backing band in school uniform suggests little has changed, and Stewart still grinds through Hot Legs as if his trousers are causing him difficulty. However, as the dust settles on his career, his real legacy is vulnerability. This was, after all, the man who wrote The Killing of Georgie, which possibly prompted greater understanding of homosexuality than anything in the 1970s.

He seems especially vulnerable now. He underwent surgery for suspected cancer of the thyroid recently, and although the gravel tones have emerged intact, he refers darkly to the "things that have happened" since he was last here. Hunter's departure has also had a lingering effect. He certainly sings his broken-hearted love songs - First Cut Is the Deepest and the rest - with an emotion that underlines why many still consider him the greatest white blues singer of them all.

However, at some point life became more interesting than making records, and although this is his first tour in three years, there is no new material. The gulf between the 1970s stuff (a volcanic Stay With Me) and 1980s rockers (Tonight I'm Yours) illustrates his artistic decline, interrupted only by Tom Waits's Downtown Train - illustrated, comically, with images of trains. First released in 1989, this cover version reveals what he can do when he can be bothered, and you wonder what would happen if Stewart ever took up lifelong fan Elvis Costello's recent offer to produce him. Gradually, after pouring out his soul, things just degenerate into clapalongaRod and some increasingly inadvisable outfits.

· Rod Stewart plays Lansdowne Road Stadium, Dublin (00 353 1 456 9569), tonight, then tours.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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