A one-off performance in an intimate casino ballroom gave Ronnie Wood a rare platform to do more than show the full scope of his talent, and why he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of two legendary groups.
Even better, with those two bands — The Rolling Stones, whose 50th anniversary tour plans are seemingly grounded; and The Faces, who disbanded in the 1970s but are perpetually rumored to finally forge a reunion with singer Rod Stewart — seemingly on hold, and Wood proving to be in such fine form, this show strongly suggested it’s high time one or both of those bands gets on with the show already.
The 60-something Wood is newly sober, which only seemed to enhance the clarity of his playing (if not his stage banter) as he led his group of “friends” through a 90-minute set that touched on various phases of — and the various musical stylings that run through — his distinguished career. Helping him do so was a crack band of musicians, who blended so seamlessly that it was hard to believe they hadn’t been on tour for months: longtime supplemental Stones players Bernard Fowler (vocals, percussion) and Chuck Leavell (piano, organ, vocals), plus drummer Steve Jordan (a member of Keith Richards‘ X-pensive Winos solo band two-plus decades ago), bassist Willie Weeks and organ player Andy Wallace.
Opener “Am I Grooving You,” from Wood’s 1974 solo debut, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, served as an early template of sorts, with the band locked into a driving R&B groove around Wood’s rough-hewn riffs and smokes-and-sandpaper voice, a formula that worked well two tracks later on a much newer number, “Thing About You,” from 2010’s I Feel Like Playing. Taut rocker “Seven Days,” the Wood staple that he “stole from Bob Dylan but he gave me, actually,” was another early highlight, with the guitarist cutting loose for a soaring solo and Leavell and Wallace bringing things to a crescendo with dueling splashes of organ.
From there, the band genre-hopped, easing into the reggae-flavored “Sweetness My Weakness,” taking a bluesy spin through the Stones’ Tattoo You nugget “Black Limousine” (with Fowler singing lead, as he would for the handful of Stones songs and Stewart-sung selections in the set) and turning in a transcendent version of the Temptations hit “(I Know) I’m Losing You” that kicked the energy in the room up a couple of notches.
The night’s highlight, however, might have been the Faces obscurity “Flying,” which not only best showcased Wood’s versatility — his guitar intro was elegant, followed by some ace slide work minutes later — but also some surprisingly high range from Fowler, who finally broke out into full-on emcee mode for the ultra-funky main set closer “Dance (Part 1),” a sleeper selection from the Stones catalog. As far as other Glimmer Twins material went, Wood and Co. unleashed a Chuck Berry-style take on the 1974 Stones hit “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll” (But I Like It) — one of Wood’s earliest Stones recordings, even though he wasn’t officially in the band at the time.
It all ended in much more predictable fashion with a faithful rendition of “Stay With Me,” a song seemingly built for crowd-pleasing encores. Ronnie Wood seemed to be going home happy, too. He flashed a big grin as he and his bandmates took their bows and he bid the audience farewell, until the next gig.
Whenever, and with whomever, that might be.
— By George Henn