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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.