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Paul Rodgers - Seminole Hard Rock Live Hollywood - January 16

Better Than: Staying home and watching Palladia.

In our experience, artists who file with the prefix "classic" before their genre face the inevitable loss of some of "the magic" with age.

However, Paul Rodgers' performance last night at Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Live showed that he's a man who deems himself above the generally unbending laws of both nature and rock 'n' roll. Rodgers gave fans nearly two hours' worth of vocal chops and swagger that appeared to have suffered little over the passage of the 43 years since Free's "All Right Now" hit the airwaves in 1970.


Yet another performance granted by the grace of a musically themed cruise (the Rock Legends Cruise II) departing our shores, Rodgers and his band hit the stage around 8 p.m. to a solidly packed room. Those with floor seats rose to greet the Brit as he strutted down the small catwalk at the foot of the stage and hit the initial bellows of "Can't Get Enough." The singer's voice was powerful, controlled, and everything one would expect from the overwhelming number of hits built around it. As guitarists Howard Leese and Markus Wolfe melded together a harmonized lead at the foot of the stage, Rodgers stood back, triumphantly spinning a chrome mic stand he held overhead as the rock 'n' roll fantasy unfolded.

Following "Honey Child," Leese, formerly and most famously of Heart, appeared alone at center stage with a mandolin for the third song of the evening. The twinkly bits Leese plucked from the small instrument stoked the crowd as they immediately recognized the introduction to the megahit "Feel Like Making Love." The song roused any remaining holdouts from their seats by the time the first chorus crashed through the room.

After getting everyone on their feet and loose, Rodgers and his band hit off the unexpected cut "Mr. Big" to the delight of the Free fans in attendance. While the more streamlined and pop-oriented sounds of Rodgers' work with Bad Company were certainly the focal point of the night for many -- easily spotted by their unison return to their seats during the Free numbers -- the tough, swaggering, and stripped-down rock of the Free tracks performed were a serious highlight for the rest of us, "Mr. Big" in particular.

Rodgers was full of energy and commanded the air-tight set in a way that spoke to his years of experience without giving even a hint of the man's age. He stood at a piano and hammered away the keys for "Running With the Pack," moved with ease, and spun his mic stand while belting out hit after hit.

 

"Ready for Love" blended-in with the crowd's whistles and hollers as Rodgers showed the slightly more tender side of the Bad Company catalog. The performance, when coupled with grinding of couples in the age-appropriate crowd, had us wondering why Pfizer never used the tune in a Viagra commercial and why we're here, writing this blog, and not in the marketing department of a large pharmaceutical company.

Throughout the night, Rodgers' band bolstered his stellar voice and showmanship via the massive, Bonham-esque drumming of Rick Fedyk, the thumping bass of Todd Ronning, and of course, the dynamic guitar duo of Wolfe and Leese. Leese, in particular, was a bright point of the show: Every solo played was record-perfect, and Leese added a bit of humor to the set by slipping in the famous "chugga-chugga" and string-skipping harmonics from Heart's "Barricuda" into his solo during "Gone Gone Gone." Leese also capped the blistering solo he played during "Fire and Water" by flapping his arms like a majestic, guitar-playing eagle taking flight.

The song also had a proper fantasy moment come true for one fan sitting in the front row. After bearing witness to the man's excitement for the first part of the set, Rodgers was compelled to grant the man the opportunity to sing a few bars of the song into a microphone dangled from the stage. The guy sounded awesome, as a matter of fact, and will probably be on tour with Steel Dragon in the coming weeks.

While the classics were the focal point of the night, Rodgers treated fans to a new track, titled "Coming Home." The song was painted in the same colors as the Bad Company hits, featuring a railed-out guitar riff and a sweeping chorus. The song fit into the set like a glove and made clear that it really doesn't matter how much time passes; Paul Rodgers will always write anthems best suited to the stereos of cars built before the age of fuel injection.

The night ended with a trio of Free tracks, the finale being "Wishing Well." Rodgers spent the song straight-up belting out lines of the song at the top of his range as if to rub the audiences faces in his utter lack of fatigue after two hours of singing and to remind everyone why he is referred to in some circles simply as "the Voice."

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: Big fan of Free; won't turn off Bad Co. tracks when they come on the radio.

Overheard: "I cannot take in any more alcohol unless I find a urinal first."
-- An attendee's eloquent, but slurred, words as he entered the restroom.

Random detail: The song "Burning Sky" was set to a backdrop of blue lights, simulated lightning, rain, and thunder sounds and felt like a classic-rock version of the Rainforest Cafe.

Setlist:

-"Can't Get Enough"
-"Honey Child"
-"Feel Like Making Love"
-"Mr. Big" (Free)
-"Running With the Pack"
-"Ready for Love"
-"Fire and Water" (Free)
-"Hendrix Medley"
-"Coming Home" (new song)
-"Bad Company"
-"Burning Sky"
-"Gone Gone Gone"
-"Shooting Star"
-"Rock N Roll Fantasy"

Encore
-"Walk in My Shadow" (Free)-"All Right Now" (Free)
-"Wishing Well" (Free)



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