Tag Archives: cat stevens

Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
Christine McVie
Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).


paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

Cat Stevens Leads Peace Train to City of Angels

cat4The first concert I ever attended was Cat Stevens in 1976 in Los Angeles, California with my sister Sue. That tour was to support his magical album Numbers in the United States, and was dubbed the “Majikat tour.” Back in those hippie days of the ‘70’s, many of us studied Cat Steven’s lyrics like poetic literature – indeed my 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in the class room! I found something beautiful about his work, as did so many of the class who received a great gift at school that day – a deeper understanding of the meaningful impact music could have on their lives.  At my first concert, in my 15th year, I also discovered the amazing impact that seeing an artist perform their work live could have on a heart. After that show we were not to see Cat Stevens perform in town again until last Sunday night, December 14, 2014, some 38 years later, just months after Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As the story of how this tragic absence came to pass is well told, let’s go on with the show.

cat5The tour was dubbed the “Peace Train Late Again” tour. The theme was peace, with a reference to Yusuf’s long absence from the stage, and more importantly the world as it is still, clearly not living in harmony.   While Yusuf made a few very short genteel statements during the show, he let the music and his lyrics speak for themselves – a fitting choice given his history with the press – misquoted and maligned.

cat2The stage backdrop was itself a wooden train station, on our night, the last night of this short U.S. tour, with the signpost announcing “Los Angeles” as the depot. The lighting was simple, and appropriate – frequently illuminating the crowd in white light as we all joined in the singing. The current six-piece band including original guitarist Alun Davies is vastly improved over the 1970’s crew, and the sound was fantastic.

cat3But the real attraction of all this was the man himself, and his messages, still delivered in fine raspy voice, with clear, crisp guitar, piano, and accompaniment. The edge is off the breathless, forceful delivery of the past, but the result is aged like fine wine. It was amazing to hear these songs arranged the way they had been so many years ago, each standing the test of time, and still sounding warm and resonant. Many of his key early tracks were included in the set list, beginning with opening song “The Wind” and it’s searching lyrics:

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows

After the next four tracks, each covers, Yusuf launched into one of the highlights of the evening, “Miles From Nowhere” followed by “Sitting,” then at the piano, and shortly thereafter a fan favorite “Where Do the Children Play,” ending the first half with another heartwarming song of empowerment from the “Harold and Maude” movie soundtrack, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.” One of the covers in that first half was Curits Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” with it’s train a-comin’ which certainly fit the theme of the night, sung beautifully as if a lullaby.

cat1For the second half of the set, many more hits from the ‘70’s were performed including a beautiful rendition of “Trouble”, from my favorite album Mona Bone Jakon, as Yusuf made reference to it and so many of his early songs being written from a hospital bed as he struggled with that strange “medieval” affliction (Tuberculosis.) Also selected: “Oh Very Young,” “Moonshadow”, “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” “Sad Lisa” and a bluesy version of “Bitterblue.” The inclusion of part of the Foreigner suite, and “(Remember the Days of the) Old School Yard” were surprising given their historical rarity. Throughout the set, Yusuf added covers and many of his recent tracks, the best from this year’s excellent rock-n-blues release Tell ‘Em I’m Gone. The most effective of these “Big Boss Man” and “Dying to Live” are covers, while “Editing Floor Blues” is a driven, autobiographical original.

It occurred to me that with a few less covers, Yusuf could have delved a bit deeper into the back catalog, maybe even including something from Numbers and more from Catch Bull at Four, but all in all the set list was varied and appropriate to the theme of the night, placing Yusuf / Cat Stevens among his historical luminaries and their timeless art. By the end of the show, the enthusiastic audience had been reintroduced to this spiritual seeker, and his words of peace, just in time for one of the encores, “Peace Train”:

Oh, I’ve been smilin’ lately,
Dreamin’ about the world as one
And I believe it could be;
Some day it’s going to come

Introducing this one, Yusuf gently proclaimed, “The train hasn’t arrived yet, but we can still sing about it.” Let’s hope for another chance soon to sing along with this acclaimed troubadour of the heart. Peace, Out.

First Concert – Cat Stevens

Inspired to Embroider!

Just read that Cat Stevens is going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it made me think of my first ever concert experience.  By the time I hit age 13 in 1973, my friends and I started to collect records of our chosing, rather than only listening to the radio.  That same year, my 7th grade Social Studies teacher brought into class the album Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, reading us the thoughtful lyrics and talking about the impact of music and poetry on society.  I’ve always wanted to look up that teacher and thank her profusely.  As it turned out, Cat Stevens, born Stephen Georgiou in London 1948, wrote a series of records that seemed to be the soundtrack of a long search for peace and spiritual truth in life.  I found something beautiful about his work, as did so many of the class who received a great gift at school that day – a deeper understanding of the meaningful impact music could have on their lives.  I began collecting Cat’s albums starting with Mona Bone Jakon (1970) up through Numbers (1975).

At the time Numbers came out, I had not yet been allowed to go to concerts.  However, my older sister had gone to a few shows and she arranged for us to see Cat Stevens, at the Los Angeles Forum, February 6, 1976.  This was to be my first rock concert, and it took place in a location I would frequent regularly in the following years.  The show did not disappoint, and in fact set a sort of bar for me in terms of the level of performance and showmanship I would regard as most fitting to meaningful rock music.

majikat_catCat Stevens had arranged the Numbers tour to begin with a magic show that ended with the appearance of a live tiger.  It was dubbed The Majikat tour.  After the opening bit, Cat appeared in a puff of smoke to quietly begin the show with acoustic tracks, “The Wind,” and “Moonshadow”, followed by “Where Do The Children Play.”  When he hit the lyric:

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
But will you keep on building higher
‘Till there’s no more room up there?

the rest of the band lit up and joined in the dramatic conclusion.  Then ensued the core show, that included a couple of tracks from Numbers, which played along with projections from Cat’s artwork, his best yet, that helped tell the story of  Novim on his planet of Numerologist humanoids.  The show was fabulous, and as hoped, Cat had a way of presenting himself, of moving when he sang these touching spiritual lyrics, so that the impact of his work was enhanced by the live experience.  I’ve sought this kind of heartfelt delivery from every performer in every show since that night, as being a patron of the rock arts has been my lifelong hobby.  I was so inspired by the album and concert with it’s Majikat theme, that I embroidered the logo on a jean shirt – how ’70’s was that!

We were so plcatcover2eased in 2004 when footage of this Numbers tour was uncovered and released on DVD.  Titled Cat Stevens: Majikat Special Edition the disc includes the full concert, along with a few early live appearances culled from television reels.  This is an excellent document of the show, and highly recommended for music lovers whose taste includes 1970’s era singer songwriters.  I along with so many fans was heartbroken when Cat became Yusuf Islam not long after this show was recorded, and for more than 20 years did not perform.  Having this document helps at least a bit!

And, in 2014, Cat will finally be recognized in the states by an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Sure we complain about this hall of fame, and how frequently the best musicians and bands are either chosen for induction so late, or are not included at all.  But this year seems special, as Cat Stevens will take this honor alongside Peter Gabriel – a fitting pair of musical geniuses.  Whatever his later beliefs have become, the searching was the thing I remember, and seeing Yusuf today, his journey seems to have come to a peaceful place, and he remains special in my heart.