NEXT month in London, Dave Stewart -- the half of Eurythmics not named Annie Lennox -- will present a program titled "The Dave Stewart Songbook" at the Tower Music Festival. "Dave Stewart With Strings" is the motivating idea: He'll perform tunes he's written throughout his career (with Lennox, as well as with a long list of pop stars including Mick Jagger, Gwen Stefani and Sinead O'Connor), accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra.
Tuesday at the Viper Room, Stewart offered a small but enthusiastic audience (including Ringo Starr) a 16-song preview of the show. He did so without the orchestra, he noted, since putting it inside the tiny venue would've relegated everyone else to the sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard. (Stewart is scheduled to perform at the Viper Room again tonight.)
As it happens, Stewart did find space onstage for an agile seven-piece combo that featured L.A.-based singer-songwriter Sierra Swan, who along with vocalist Amy Keyes did a surprisingly credible job of replicating Lennox's future-soul grit in Eurythmics hits such as "Missionary Man" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
Other selections sounded weaker and more dated, including "Lily Was Here," Stewart's collaboration with Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer (who traded limp hotel-jazz licks Tuesday with Stewart), and "Old Habits Die Hard," the "Alfie" soundtrack cut that, thanks to Jagger's involvement, managed to win a Golden Globe in 2005 for best original song.
Stewart's old pal Bob Geldof hopped onstage to sing "This Is the World Calling," which Stewart told the crowd he and Geldof had written at 2 a.m. in a booth at Twain's in Studio City. (The shaggy-dog intro was more compelling than the song.)
As the hit-packed set list demonstrated, Stewart's contribution to modern pop is undeniable. Yet his appeal is that of the guy-behind-the-guy variety; astrologically speaking, he's more a moon than a planet, much less a star.
So the Viper Room show worked best when he ceded the spotlight to his side people, as in No Doubt's "Underneath It All," which he had his backup singers turn into an appealingly bizarre girl-group doo-wop tune.
Stewart's specialty is ideas, not identity.