Rod Stewart’s Strip Act: Rock legend kicks off 2-year stand at Caesars Palace

There was a point in Rod Stewart’s opening night show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace during his classic “Every Picture Tells a Story,” when he flashed up a photo of himself and buddy Elton John from the early ’70s on the huge screen at the back of the stage. You can bet that 40 years ago, neither one of them thought that the site of their musical future would be on the Vegas Strip. Yet here they both are. On Aug. 24, Stewart began a two-year, 52-date residency at the 4,000-seat Colosseum. John returns next month for a new run at the same venue following his extremely successful “Red Piano” show that ran from 2004 to 2009.

The energetic show focused on Stewart’s radio hits of the ’70s and ’80s. Noticeably missing were any songs from his five-album “Great American Songbook” series of standards that revitalized his career during the past decade. This was a rock show, meant to show off the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s vital, still great, raspy chops. The only time he seemed to struggle vocally was during his lovely rendition of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” when he was competing with his own band to be heard. He also seemed eager to prove that he’s far from needing to just stand in one spot on stage and croon. During “Hot Legs,” he kicked autographed soccer ball after autographed soccer ball into the audience, often bouncing them off his knee before sending them into the balcony. Stewart is just the latest superstar to headline Vegas since Celine Dion transformed the town — and entertainment — in 2003.

“It all started with Celine, that was the roll of the dice,” Randy Phillips, chief executive of concert promoter AEG Live told MSN Music prior to the start of Stewart’s show. Before Dion, epic stars such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley performed during the ’60s and ’70s primarily in 1,200- to 1,800-seat showrooms, often to the sound of waiters taking drink orders and clinking glasses. AEG built the more traditional, $105 million Colosseum theater specifically for Dion’s five-year run. “Celine also began the massive production since we married her to a Cirque du Soleil style show,” Phillips said. Also important in the paradigm shift is that Dion signed her exclusive Vegas deal at a time when she was still vital in radio, which helped break the stigma that no artist who was in the full flush of her career would park herself at Vegas. Her run proved so popular (and lucrative), that soon, other huge names followed at the Colosseum and other venues on the Strip, including Cher, John, Bette Midler, Prince, Santana and Garth Brooks. The latest superstar who announced a Vegas stint was Shania Twain, who will start a two-year stint at the Colosseum in December 2012. Still on AEG’s dream list, according to company executives, who admit none of them are likely, are Neil Diamond, Lionel Richie and Paul McCartney.

Stewart’s remaining 2011 dates are Aug. 27-Sept. 11, and Nov. 3-20.

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