Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Al Stewart, 2012

Al Stewart was in fine form early this month at the Woodstock Opera House. The remarkable thing is that his guitar virtuosity and fine voice sound almost the same now as they did on records he made around 35 years ago, or during live performances of the period currently disseminated by YouTube. We should all age so well.

The audience has aged with Al. In fact, I felt a bit younger than the average. Al Stewart had his biggest records in this country in the late '70s, when I was a teenager, but many in the audience must have first listened to him in their 20s or even 30s. Lilly, of course, was drastically out of the audience demographic, and claimed that people were starring at her (she's the age at which she feels that way a lot, but it was probably true in this setting).

The talented Stewart sideman David Nachmanoff and a bassist opened the show with three Nachmanoff songs, and then Al came out for a set in which they both, or all three, played Al's songs. After an intermission, they repeated the pattern. As usual, Al bantered between most of the songs, sometimes to explain a song's back story, sometimes to talk about some early experience in music, which I'm certain he knows the audience likes to hear. Once he talked about meeting the young Rolling Stones as a very young man himself -- 17, I believe he said, which would put the event ca. 1962.

The playlist relied heavily on his '70s albums, especially Year of the Cat. No doubt he feels obliged to play "Year of the Cat" and "On the Border" from that record, which he did, but this time around he also played "Midas Shadow" and "Flying Sorcery," the latter about aviatrix Amy Johnson. Surprisingly, he reached all the way back to his first album to play the title track of Bed-Sitter Images, a song I don't think I'd heard before. Also on the playlist from an early album (Orange) was "The News From Spain," which he characterized as his worst-selling single, "because it's so depressing." I'll go along with that.

When I saw Al Stewart live for the first time at the Park West in Chicago in early 1989, someone in the audience requested something from Orange, and he mocked the suggestion. But then again, he had an album to promote during that tour — Last Days of the Century — and so focused on newer items that aren't so new any more. These days he obviously doesn't mind reaching back more than 40 years for a tune.

The newest thing he played at the Woodstock Opera House was "Sheila Won't Be Coming Home," something he co-wrote with Nachmanoff. Also on the playlist were the relatively new "(A Child's View Of) The Eisenhower Years," which is good fun, and "Night Train to Munich," which I assume was inspired by the movie of that name, though I've never seen it.

All in all, a good show. I wouldn't have expected anything else. Still, I wouldn't have minded hearing some songs of his I've never heard live before, such as the moody "Palace of Versailles" or the only pop song I know about the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

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