An Acoustic Evening with Al Stewart
22nd October 2013
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.