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 Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Delvin 
Date:   11-13-17 10:03

I didn't see any empty seats in the house last Friday night when we went to see Al Stewart. He's appeared in these parts at least twice since we moved here, but just by himself with a guitar ... which, as he told the crowd, is pretty true to his folk-singer roots. This time out, he's touring with a full band for the first time since the '80s, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Year of the Cat for the yacht-rock faithful.

At 72, Stewart looks (and dresses) like the nerdiest history teacher ever to walk the halls in any junior-high school. He looks sort of like Ed Grimley with better grooming. His airy voice still is unmistakable, although he doesn't hit the high notes like he used to. But his guitar playing is excellent, and he clearly was delighted to have an audience. His backing band was flexible throughout, but always cohesive. They didn't reproduce the lush sound that Alan Parsons imparted to Stewart's '70s albums, but they didn't sound bar-band cheap either. (More on his band in a bit.)

Stewart also kept the crowd entertained with his stories, like buying his first guitar from Andy Summers and taking lessons from a local teen prodigy named Robert Fripp. (Asked thirty years later in an interview if any of his pupils ever made it big, Fripp replied, "Just one ... and he made it by discarding everything I taught him.") He said that once the Beatles hit, he spent the next two years playing in bands who basically copied their sound, and realized that Merseybeat wasn't really his style. "Then I heard this new singer on the radio --" and he broke into a folkie strum and a nose-perfect Dylan impression. "And I said, yeah, I could do that."

The sold-out crowd mostly was older than us, mostly white-haired, a few on canes or walkers. "I gotta warn ya, it's gonna be a wild party right here," the geezer to my left told me. And sure enough, it was, including his barely ambulatory wife spilling her drink all over the guy sitting in front of her. When Al and his band played the better-known songs, the folks would cheer and scream and clap with all the rhythm you would expect of white AARP members. "Rock that doesn't rock the boat," sure ... but it definitely rocked their world.

At least, with this crowd, I wasn't too worried about any of them getting into fights (least of all with me). When the band played "Year of the Cat" and the woman in front of me screamed, "I love this song!" for the third time, I leaned over and yelled in her ear, "Then be quiet and let us all can enjoy it!" She was shocked (and so were her friends), but she did shut up.

Sirens of Titan
Time Passages
Lord Grenville
On the Border
Midas Shadow
Sand in Your Shoes
If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
Flying Sorcery
Broadway Hotel
One Stage Before
Year of the Cat

Valentina Way
In Brooklyn (Al solo)

Stewart's backup band, The Empty Pockets, also served as his opening act. Based out of Chicago, their own music blends rock, pop, country and blues. Their songwriting is consistently good, with plenty of melody, and the band features two strong singers. They clearly respect the classic rock, but all the same, it seemed a bit odd to see such a young band (not a gray hair to be seen among them) playing songs that were hits before any of them were born. I got to ask one of the singers about this later at the merch booth.

She said they have the same manager as Gary Wright. A few years ago, Gary wanted to tour, but all the musicians he was used to working with were "too flippin' expensive. They've all been in this business so long that by now, they think they're rock stars." So their manager asked if they would consider the gig. It got them out of Chicago (and out of their day jobs), playing as Gary's band and as his opening act, to appreciative audiences who found that this young band's music fit in well with what they already liked. They later toured with Richie Furay, then Kenny Loggins, and now with Al Stewart.

"It's been great!" she told me. "All these classic-rock guys have been really nice to us. Al is especially nice, and he has a lot of great stories that he's happy to share. The crowds have been awesome. And we've sold a lot of our own records and CDs, coast to coast."

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Michael Toland 
Date:   11-13-17 10:16

My first roommate was a big Al Stewart fan and has several of his albums - not just the hits. I know I listened to them, but it's been so long I don't remember them at all beyond the hit singles. I always liked those hits, though - he gets a lot of shit for being wimpy, but his stuff sounds really different from his 70s singer/songwriter fellow travelers. I should hit up Spotify for an album or two.

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Post-Punk Monk 
Date:   11-13-17 10:26

I always thought that Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys was a dead ringer for Al Stewart. On the first album, "Please," I thought that the piano ballad "Later Tonight" functioned as virtual Al Stewart. Same elegant delivery to these ears.

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Delvin 
Date:   11-13-17 10:30

Al Stewart actually has had a pretty interesting career. He became popular on the folk-music scene in the UK in the '60s, playing with a lot of the up-and-coming stars of that time. He was even roommates with Paul Simon for a while.

He also told us that, most of the time, he runs through three or four lyrics for each song before settling on one he likes. When he recorded Year of the Cat, the music, arrangements and orchestration for the entire album was done and recorded before he started writing any lyrics. Given that he's a pretty literate writer, I'd be interested to read some of those early drafts.

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Delvin 
Date:   11-13-17 12:34

> I always thought that Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys was a dead ringer for Al Stewart.

Yeah, I heard that similarity too, from the first time I heard "West End Girls."

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: rhettlawrence 
Date:   11-14-17 23:49

Never been an Al Stewart fan, but I've only ever heard the hits, so maybe I'll give him another chance sometime. I really don't like his voice very much though and can't ever get very far into the music of Destroyer (the dude, not the album) because he sounds too much like Al Stewart to me.

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Michael Toland 
Date:   11-15-17 09:02

He does! I never made the connection until now, but for years I've thought Dan Bejar's voice sounded familiar and couldn't put my finger on it.

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 Re: Al Stewart in Edmonds, WA
Author: Delvin 
Date:   11-15-17 10:51

I knew Al Stewart's hits from the Seventies well enough, of course. I also had a science teacher in 10th grade who brought in his home stereo and set it up in the classroom, to teach a section on sound and how it travels. He demonstrated with a few classical records, describing the range of frequencies we were hearing and asking us to try to discern the sense of space and dynamics. He finished off the presentation with "Year of the Cat," which was very well-known already. (Mr. Hart was a really cool teacher.)

After high school, Al wasn't very high on my radar (although I did have a GF during freshman year who had a big thing about his Time Passages album). Some time in the late '80s, I did pick up a single-CD best-of by Al. It dug into more than the obvious hits, but stuck mostly to the Alan Parsons years. (I would've liked to have heard "Running Man," "The World Goes to Riyadh" or "Roads to Moscow" the other night.)

I didn't know anything about Stewart's foundation in folk music until last week. In fact, we went to this show because a couple of our neighbors had two extra comp tickets.

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