Over the past couple of months I have been lucky enough to re-live my late teens and early 20s by either re-seeing or finally seeing musicians I had missed. On Friday July 15, I got to see Al Stewart again when he came back to Phoenix and played at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), after first seeing him in 1976. Al is best known for his 1976 platinum album and hit single Year of the Cat. The show at the MIM featured a very simple setup of just two acoustic guitarists, Scottish singer-songwriter and folk-rock musician Al Stewart and his longtime friend Dave Nachmanoff.
The show was broken into 2 sets with a short intermission. Dave Nachmanoff started each set by playing 3 songs from his personal collection. For the first set, he played That Guy, Say Goodbye to the Elephants and The Loyalists. For the second set, he played Not What I Expected, Spinoza’s Dream and Conservation Law. Prior to each song, he gave a little background about how he came up with the song, such as The Loyalists being about British Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War.
After the first 3 songs, Al joined Dave on the stage. Al is known for the historical lyrics of his songs, and prior to each song, he would tell a short story about the next song or just a funny story about his life. Al told one story about having a phone interview with a major Canadian radio DJ and was asked what it was like to be with the Bond girls. Al said, “I believe you mean Rod Stewart, at which point there was 3 seconds of dead air and then a click.” During the first set, they played favorites The Palace of Versailles, On the Border and Time Passages.
Al started his second set with his song, Warren Harding. He told us that the song was really about bootlegging and how President Harding use to drink with reporters during Prohibition. Al then told us that he was a childhood friend of Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and took guitar lessons from Fripp. After about 10 lessons, Al just gave up. Later, Fripp was asked if any of his students ever make it big, and he said, “Yes, Al Stewart. He made it big by not doing anything I taught him.” A few songs later he told us that Merlin’s Time was not a story about the King Arthur’s Merlin, but was about a Scottish warrior named Merlin. They concluded the second set with Al’s hit single, Year of the Cat.
For the encore, Al and Dave came back on stage, with Al showing off a poster. He issued a personal challenge to everyone to name all of the historical people shown on the poster. He said if anyone could get them all correct, he would personally take them out to dinner. He said only 1 person in the last 4 year got close and only missed 1. Al said that he even missed 30 when he took the test. Al and Dave completed the performance be playing a new song, Sheila Won’t Be Coming Home.
If you like songwriters and like to listen to stories about the songs, then this is a great performance to see. It reminded me a lot of the MTV’s Unplugged series, where artists would tell the story about a song and then play it acoustically for the audience. It was a very enjoyable evening of music and definitely brought back great memories.
The MIM is a perfect venue for this style of concert. It is a small theater designed with a 3 row pit and then tiered seats for the rest of the venue. Every seat in the theater has a very great view of the stage, and the sound was excellent throughout. Talking with some of the ushers, they indicated that past bands and events sounded just as good as tonight. I personally cannot wait to see and review more shows at this outstanding venue.
Review and photos by Fred Kuhlman
Photos © Fred Kuhlman 2016
Set 1 List: (Album)
That Guy (Spinoza’s Dream)
Say Goodbye to the Elephants (Time Before the Fall)
The Loyalists (A Certain Distance)
House of Clocks (Down in the Cellar)
Flying Sorcery (Year of the Cat)
The Palace of Versailles (Time Passages)
In Brooklyn (Love Chronicles)
On the Border (Year of the Cat)
Night Train to Munich (Between the Wars)
Time Passages (Time Passages)
Set 2 List:
Not What I Expected (Candy Shower)
Spinoza’s Dream (Spinoza’s Dream)
Conservation Law (Step Up)
Warren Harding (Past, Present, and Future)
The Candidate (Russians and Americans)
Broadway Hotel (Year of the Cat)
Midas Shadow (Year of the Cat)
Merlin’s Time (24 Carrots)
Gina in the Kings Road (A Beach Full of Shells)
Year of the Cat (Year of the Cat)
Sheila Won’t Be Coming Home (Step Up)