Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Al Stewart: May 26, 2001, Austin, Texas.


Al played at the Cactus Café in Austin, Texas on May 26. The Cactus Café is a small, intimate room in the student center on the University of Texas campus. It's a place where a lot of big names in Texas music play for small crowds. As a rule, there are no advance ticket sales. This rule held true for Al's show, so the best seats went to whoever showed up first, but even the worst seats are better than good seats most places.

For Al's show, they took out the tables and put in rows of chairs. It looked like there was seating for around two to three hundred. The show started at 9:00 p.m. and tickets went on sale at 8:15 p.m. We (the Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black, our son Christian, and I) drove in from Beaumont (about 250 miles) and were in line by 5:45. There was one party of two ahead of us. The stage was about eight to ten feet square and maybe 18 inches high. The stage was in one corner or the room, and the seats were arranged in an "L" shape around the stage. Our seats were in the first row, directly in front of the stage. We were no more than six feet from the microphone.

Al is Christian's favorite artist and this was his first concert. He listens to Between the Wars a lot, and was hoping to hear "League of Notions."


Al's special guest (i.e., opening act) was Eliza Gilkyson, the daughter of Baloo from Disney's "Jungle Book." Well, maybe not Baloo per se, but at least the guy who wrote "The Bare Necessities." She put on a great show. Joe Bob says check her out. Here's the song list:

1. Love's Shadow
2. Rose of Sharon
3. Hard Times in Babylon
4. (Let's Just File into the Night? True Companions?)
5. Easy Rider
6. Twisted
7. Beauty Way
8. Coast
9. Welcome Back


Al bounded onto the stage and started straight into "Flying Sorcery." He played it very well indeed. Sometime during this song, someone from Cactus Cafe told the Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black "no pictures." We therefore have very few pictures from he show. The ones we do have were taken during the first song and without a flash (we thought the flash would be rude). They are not particularly good.

Next Al played around with "La Bamba" and segued into "In Brooklyn," which he said was about his experiences on his first trip to America. The song didn't suffer for the lack of Jimmy Page's guitar. And, regarding the coffee that tasted of hotdogs, he said "that's okay, mine was tea anyway and just grand." Also, "Jewish Italian pawnbrokers" was changed to "little Italian pawnbrokers."

When he finished with "In Brooklyn," Al gave a nod to the black ASML shirt in the front row and went into "On the Border."

After "On the Border," Al acknowledged the Texas venue and paid tribute to our native music. If only he had a hat, he said, he could have a hit. But alas, it was not to be. Hatless Al did try to write a country song once (how hard could it be?), but the subject matter-the armistice following World War I-apparently didn't strike a chord with a mass audience. That song, of course, was "League of Notions," which was next. Christian was thrilled.

When Al finished with "League of Notions," Christian (who coincidentally was also wearing a black ASML shirt), observed that that there were two voices singing out of sync with each other on the album. Al explained that both voices were his, and that he has a special ability to sing like that with two voices simultaneously. (As I write this, it occurs to me that Al's admitted ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth is really the same as the lawyer's ability to smile with both faces in "License to Steal." I think it should be obvious to everyone that Al really wants to be a lawyer.)

The Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black called out "House of Clocks." Al said that the next song was one that most people would not have heard. He said it was a song from the new album, which, he said-for reasons he would explain later-was available everywhere in the world except the U.S. Al also spoke of an old grandfather clock that that had been in his family for quite some time and that he was thinking about bringing back from the UK. Then he thought of an old American song about a grandfather's clock that always kept perfect time but stopped on the day that the old man died.

Having now reached the status of the old man himself, Al wasn't so sure he wanted so much riding on his clock. He played "House of Clocks."

Al then told about a dot-com billionaire who got out of the business at an opportune time, and who had a birthday party to which he invited all the new friends he made after he became a billionaire. None showed up. It seems that there was an earthquake and everyone in LA who was not at the party was killed. The audience cheered. Al got all the words right without even having to stop and think or ask the audience. Or almost right, anyway. Instead of "1961 Margaux and Petrus and Chateau Latour," I'm pretty sure he said "1961 Margaux and Lafite and Chateau Latour."

After playing "The Night that the Band Got the Wine," Al explained the origins of Down in the Cellar (the album, not the song). It seems that he was approached by what he termed a "lifestyle company" to make a CD about wine to promote the California wine industry. He did a sort of Barry White version of what he thought they were looking for and suggested that they weren't really looking for the 700 word song he wrote. He thought they might not have gotten quite what they expected. Anyway, the record company went bankrupt (but somehow still managed to get Alan Parson's new CD out), so Al approached EMI about getting the CD released outside of the US. Much to his surprise, EMI not only picked up the album, but even promoted it, and it is doing quite well in the UK. So now Down in the Cellar is available
everywhere except the country it was made for.

Al also said that, as a result of his new musical direction, fans have started bringing him gifts of wine, which is a good thing. Or not, depending on the wine. If it has a screw cap and has been lying under the couch for the last 46 years, it's probably best to leave it at home.

Al next explained that, although he is relatively new to wine songs, he has long been a chronicler of the British Navy. And with that, he launched into "Old Admirals," followed by Soho (Needless to Say).

Al said that by this point in the show everyone should have realized that they were not going to see Rod. He told us of a radio interview where the DJ kept asking him why he liked blondes so much. Al was perplexed. When he figured out what was going on and suggested that the interviewer might have him confused with Rod Stewart. That was the end of the interview.

Having ascertained that everyone was in the right place and had indeed come to see Al Stewart and not Rod Stewart, and further having surmised that there were people in the audience that might be familiar with his work, he solicited requests from the audience. The winner (Al claimed it was the only one he could hear) was "Clifton in the Rain."

So Al played "Clifton in the Rain" and "Small Fruit Song," which seem to have grown together into a single song over the years, and which particularly delighted the Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black.

Al explained the peculiar advantages that a singer/songwriter has after a relationship goes sour. He can write a song about her getting eaten by prawns (he also called them shrimp so the audience would know what he was talking about) and play it night after night, but she'll never know because she doesn't listen to him anymore. Next up was "Dark and Rolling Sea," which, incidentally, is played with a capo on the third fret.

Next Al explained the difference between metaphors and similes, and how it relates to heavy metal versus folk music. Heavy metal is heavy on metaphors-"I am the devil." Folk, on the other hand, leans more toward similes-"I am like the devil." Then he did a song that is very folky because it's just a bunch of similes strung together. And he didn't even forget any of them. It was like a big yellow tractor plowing through a field of hay.

After "Genie on a Tabletop," Al started "Heard it through the Grapevine" intro. The audience was incapable of clapping at the right time, so Al stopped to set the beat for the clapping, then resumed the intro and went into "Year of the Cat." Dick Cheney was cast for the Peter Lorre role. Last time I saw Al was around 1984, and Ronald Reagan got the part. And that was it.

Al left the stage, but was forced to come back and play a couple more songs. For the first encore, he played Waiting for Margaux followed by Antarctica. He again left the stage, but the audience wasn't ready to let him quit yet.

Al came out for a second encore, and someone shouted out "Roads to Moscow." Despite a groan from someone in the first row not connected with me, the boy, or the Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black, Al played it. It was great. Then after the song was done, he played the solo. (He said he can play the song or the solo, but not both at the same time.)

When Al took the stage, it was obvious that he was in high spirits and that he was going to have a great time with the show. He was in great form and put on the best show I've ever seen. Even though it was just Al and his guitar, the show was even better than the times I've seen him in the past with a full band. Here's the song list:

1. Flying Sorcery
2. In Brooklyn
3. On the Border
4. League of Notions
5. House of Clocks
6. The Night that the Band Got the Wine
7. Old Admirals
8. Soho (Needless to Say)
9. Clifton in the Rain/Small Fruit Song
10. Genie on a Tabletop
11. Year of the Cat

12. Waiting for Margaux
13. Antarctica

14. Roads to Moscow


After the show, Al stayed around to sign autographs. I asked him when would be an appropriate time to drink a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1995, which I just happened to pick up in Houston on the way to the show. He said to come around again about 2010. Rats. Anyway, we got a couple things signed, and the Enchantingly Beautiful and Mysterious Lady in Black and Christian got their pictures taken with Al, and I got some recommendations on what to buy of the 2000 Bordeaux. All in all, you couldn't ask for a better time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You lucky bugger. Al is a genius.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008 8:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You lucky bugger. Al is a genius.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008 8:47:00 PM  

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