An Acoustic Evening with Al Stewart

Liverpool Philharmonic
22nd October 2013

Reviewed by Darren Guy

Whenever you mention Al Stewart people who know the name say 'Year of the Cat'. I feel I have to come to his defence - 'yes good album, some good songs, but not his best, in my opinion that was his road to commercialism'. His road away from the things I thought he was really good at. i.e song/stories about relationships, love, lyrical poetry, a journey through the world of bedsits, half loves, open relationships, alienation etc. I was listening to his earlier albums, ' Orange (1972),' 'Modern Times (1975)', in the mid-1980s, at a time when he was writing and singing about issues nobody else seemed to be commenting on, issues that related to my life, and probably lots of other peoples. I like most songs on 'Year of the Cat' (1976) and some from 'Time Passages' (1978). I listened to his later stuff but nothing really grabbed me. So hearing he was doing an acoustic set at the Phil I was more than happy to get a chance to review it, with the hope that acoustic meant him performing music from his early years.

The show opened up with a warm up artist, singer/songwriter Dave Nachmanoff, a Californian folk musician. With obvious influences of Woody Guthrie, with a mixture of folkish Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen thrown in, he sang a few songs about travel, love etc. He was a mean guitarist and a good singer. After the third song Al Stewart entered to a rousing applause. I must admit for me it really was 'Time Passages'. I'd stopped following Stewart's career more than 25 year earlier so was expecting a middle aged man, not a conservatively dressed man in his 70s. How time really can leave you behind.

Stewart sang a mixture of old and newish songs, the most memorable being 'Time Passages','Merlin's Time', 'On the Border', and concluded the set with 'Year Of The Cat'. But my favourite of all, and apparently the most played on radio from the recently released live album, 'Uncorked', the jilted love song 'News From Spain' from the Orange album. Stewart promoted his latest album throughout the show, however I think the middle-aged to elderly audience would have preferred Al to take them on a reminisce tour, rather than introduce them to a host of new songs.

I know it can be an issue, and I've heard performers say they get really tired of singing the same old songs, but to be frank, Stewart, to me, sounded like he was just going through the motions playing his earlier works, that is until he sang 'News from Spain', accompanied by the haunting guitar of Nachmanoff. Stewart and the audience looked in their element. I certainly was, I was hoping the performance would then rise, but it didn't. It drifted back to Al singing as though he was again going through the motions. From my perspective, the audience had come to see Stewart perform the songs that touched them, and testimony of this is that fact that Nachmanoff stated that 'News from Spain' from 'Uncorked' had had more airtime than any other song on the album, including his million sellers.

I think Stewart, if he is going to continue to perform live, has to stick to the songs that mean something, which reached people on a personal level,and these are the songs from his early 'artistic' albums, the 1970s albums. It is the stories, the poetry and the sincerity of these albums that stands the test of time, not his commercial output. Having said that Nachmanoff was excellent on guitar and, in many ways, although he was backing Stewart, was really the main star of the performance, with Stewart happily leaning on Nachmanoff's excellent guitar, warm personality and backing vocals and guitar. The venue was less than half full and to be frank the audience at the end of the night didn't look enthralled by the performance and, as the saying goes, if in the future Stewart returns to the Philharmonic, he needs to give the people what they prefer to hear or they won't come back to see him.

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