Paul Rodgers (left) and guitarist Howard Leese.
It was clear before the first power chord Sunday night that the Paul Rodgers
show could go one of two ways.
The man with more than 40 years of packing arenas and stadiums performing with his bands Bad Company, Free, The Firm and later with Queen could
have stepped on stage, looked at the two-thirds-full ballroom at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, and decided he was going to half-ass his way through a perfunctory set and get moving on down the road as fast as possible. Or, he could make sure the people on hand got their money's worth with a vibrant performance full of the hits that made Rodgers the voice of countless classic-rock hits.
Thankfully, Rodgers chose the latter, and I probably should have never considered a consummate pro like him would ever contemplate otherwise. I was shocked to find that Rodgers had a smaller crowd than, say, Queensryche had a few weeks ago, even with a higher-priced ticket. But you wouldn't know the room wasn't full by the way Rodgers and his three-piece band delivered the goods, cranking up the Marshall amps and ripping through 90 minutes of vibrant blues-rock that served as an ample reminder that the British vocalist is widely considered one of the best rock voices of the modern era.
Turning 66 in December, Rodgers has no right to sound as good as he does a full 46 years after Free's first album was released. He looks good, too, spinning his microphone stand in the patented form familiar to any old fans, strutting the stage and hitting every note in the process. At various points he made his way to a piano or picked up some tambourines to beat along with the rhythm, but for the most part Rodgers was front and center, delivering hit after hit.
The set was mostly full of Bad Company tunes, of course, from the show-opening run through "Can't Get Enough," "Live for the Music" and "Run with the Pack" to the set-closing race through songs that are still played on classic-rock radio every day from coast to coast, including "Ready for Love," "Shooting Star" and "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy."
The show's highlights came from less-expected tunes, though. Rodgers recently went to Memphis and recorded an album of old blues and soul songs that had a big influence on his own songwriting, and he played a mean cover of Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign," featuring that classic couplet: "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all." Rodgers' voice was a natural for the old bluesman's tune.
Another treat was a mid-show double-dose of songs Rodgers wrote with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page for their short-lived mid-80s band The Firm. Rodgers told the crowd he was on the way to Seattle to meet up with Page later this week at a celebration for the guitarist at the Experience Music Project, and then proceeded to lead his band through The Firm's bluesy slow-burner "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and rollicking "Radioactive," with guitarist Howard Leese (longtime Heart guitarist) ably filling in for Page's distinct riffing. In fact Leese proved an MVP all night, delivering excellent lead guitar parts on everything from ballads to raucous rockers.
By show's end, after fine takes of "Gone Gone Gone," "Burnin' Sky" and "Movin' On," Rodgers delivered an encore with two of his biggest hits, "Bad Company" (you have to be pretty badass to be able to pull off having a song with the same title as your band's name) and Free's "All Right Now."
Some might quibble the show was too short, but I'll take 16 tunes of the quality Rodgers and Co. brought on Sunday night.