Friday, September 09, 2005

Al Stewart at the Mucky Duck, September 8, 2005

September 8, 2005 at the Mucky Duck in Houston, Texas. It’s Al Stewart and Dave Nachmanoff.

At 8:00 p.m., more or less sharp, Dave kicked things off with “Square Peg Blues.” After finishing the song, Dave directed our attention to the guy next to him with the big guitar. And that guy was Mike Lindauer, from The Woodlands (a Houston suburb) playing a fretless acoustic bass.

And then it was the title track of “A Certain Distance,” which was, of course, “A Certain Distance.”

When he’d finished that song, Dave explained that he hadn’t always made his living as a musician; he’d once taught philosophy. Dr. Dave, he was. Once upon a time. But he was fortunate to live in California where they have support groups and 12-step programs even for recovering philosophers. But he nevertheless had occasional relapses, and the result of one of those was "Descartes in Amsterdam."

The next song was one that he wrote during his brother’s wedding. Well, not actually during the wedding. And he didn’t exactly write it himself. He wrote it in collaboration with his brothers Jeffrey and Michael, one of whom is a lawyer and the other a screenwriter (“The Day After Tomorrow” was mentioned). The song was “Grateful.”

And that was that for Dave’s set. Almost. Dave mentioned that Al had just had a birthday and sort of prodded the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday.” Apparently finding the crowd’s unaided attempt to be limp, disorganized, and wholly unsatisfactory, Dave took charge and led the room in a proper rendition.

And then without further ado Al and Dave went straight into “House of Clocks” (Mr. Lindauer having by then retired from the stage).

Somewhere in there Al asked Neville to find Rusty (the proprietor of the Mucky Duck) to turn up Dave’s guitar. And once they were satisfied with the levels, they played “Flying Sorcery.”

Al commented that the Mucky Duck was moving up market. He said that when he first met Rusty, they had three bottles of Gallo on the wine list. Now they have Dom. (I had their special, a bottle of J Garcia Zinfandel, a quite satisfactory selection. And when that was running low, a bottle of Firesteed Pinot Noir, which was a bit harsh at first, but opened up nicely after breathing for a half an hour).

For his next song, Al said he was reaching back to 1922 for a song from his second album. An album that he said was released in England but not in the U.S. And he told of his first trip to the U.S. He got in the cab and the driver asked him where he was from, and he said “England.” And the driver said “I hate the fuckin’ English.” Al said he spent about a week in New York, and we wrote…. Hmmm… sounds like La Bamba…. But of course, it turned into “In Brooklyn.”

The words to “In Brooklyn” seem to have changed since Love Chronicles came out back in ’22. “Jewish Italian pawnbrokers” has been “Little Italian pawnbrokers” every time I’ve heard him play it over the last few years, and the “coffee that tasted of hot dogs” has been “tea anyway” rather than “cold anyway.” And this time, “records and adverts for cat food” was changed to “records and adverts for blue jeans.”

And then Al had a few words about English rock. It seems that the Americans exported rock to England, and then the English tried to sell it back. And Al felt that he’d really struck a blow for England when the next song hit 42 on the Billboard charts. And then he did a long intro only occasionally hinting at what the song was going to be. But, of course, those in the know immediately pick up the strains of “On the Border,” which is what it turned out to be.

Before they moved on to the next song, Dave plugged his upcoming CD of instrumental versions of Al Stewart songs. That CD is titled “Wordless Rhymes,” which, Al said is a better title than “Useless but Profound.” Dave said he’s saving that for an album of philosophy songs.

Al said that the next song was like a swing tune. Not like a swing tune, it is a swing tune. And it was "Night Train to Munich." And when they were done, Dave said “See? Audiences do like swing.”

And then Al went back to talking about cab drivers. It seems that every cab driver he’s had is from Armenia. Which is also the setting of the next song. But he’s not going to tell them that he wrote a song about them because he’s afraid they’ll declare war on Turkey. And they played “Rain Barrel,” which I thought sounded better with just the two guitars doing the Middle Eastern music.

Al mentioned that “Rain Barrel” was a song from the new album, which he assumed we all had, but if we didn’t, he did. He said that they were gong to play one more song before taking a break. “You can all have a few drinks and we’ll have a few drinks….” Which is why they were doing the songs he didn’t know so well before the break. Which seemed an odd intro to the next song, which was “Time Passages.” And they had fun with it, occasionally striking some of those ‘classic’ Rock n’ Roll poses and generally having a good ol’ time.

And then there was a 20-minute break. Al suggested that everyone order a bottle of Dom Perignon. Said they weren’t going to come back until everyone had ordered two bottles of wine.

Al and Dave were back on stage at 9:30, looking like they were having an even better time than before. (Perhaps he meant that they weren’t coming back until someone bought THEM two bottles of wine.)

The first song after the break was “Gina in the Kings Road,” which ended with “she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah…, yeah.”

Since he’d just sung a song about being young, he said he was going to do one about being old. And he started playing “Deck the Halls.” But only started. Then he told of a trip through the Pacific Northwest, thinking about Henry VIII and his six wives, the first of whom was Catherine of Aragon. Catherine of Aragon. Katherine of Oregon. What a good song title! Of course, the song doesn’t have anything to do with the title, but it was too good a title to throw away. And he played “Katherine of Oregon.”

After that, Al said that sometimes a song is just so undistinctive that no one picks up on it, but this next song had some interesting lyrical things going on. And with Dave somehow making his guitar sound something like a piano, they went into “Midas Shadow,” with Dave doing some pretty fancy guitar work in the break.

The next song started with (or at least contained) the line “It was 1935, I was looking for employment,” and it featured the oft repeated line "She asked for water, And I went to the well." There were hints of “Flying Sorcery” here and there, but not in the chorus. I was stumped. Couldn’t think of what it was. Then he said it was a song he’d written a couple days ago.

Someone picked up on the “1935” from the (possibly) first line of the aforementioned song, but either he or I was a year off on the date, and he asked for that other “1934” song. So Al starts singing:

“The morning is humming, it's a quarter past nine
I should be working down in ….”


And he went back and tried to figure out what was wrong. The second time through, at “a quarter past nine” he realized that he normally does “The Last Day of June 1934” with a capo. Having straightened that out, he finished the song without a (further) hitch. Stuff like that happens sometimes when you play songs you weren't planning on playing.

After the song, he said, “In case you don’t know who Ernst Roehm was, he was the leader of the Brown Shirts. If you don’t know who they were, I’m not going to tell you.” Or words to that effect. But of course, he did tell. Or at least he gave the short version: They were fighting the communists in the street. They were an unorganized rabble. Hitler replaced them with a more efficient organization, the SS.

Then on a lighter note, they played “Clifton in the Rain” (embellished with some very nice guitar work by Al and Dave), which ended with “A Small Fruit Song.”

Al said he was feeling daring, doing songs he never does. And the next one was a Bruce Springsteen song. Or so he said. It was “Modern Times.” And it was executed flawlessly.

Next up was “Soho (Needless to Say),” and he didn’t even forget any of the words. And how ‘bout those jammin’ guitars. When it was over, Al said he was going to steal that solo from Dave.

And then a bit of noodling on the guitar that turned into “California Dreaming.” Only a few bars, of course. Al said he thought he was making something up. It eventually turned into “Year of the Cat,” which segued into “In the Halls of the Mountain King,” which turned back to “California Dreaming,” and ended with the line “California dreaming... in the year of the cat.”

And Al and Dave left the stage. Of course, the audience wanted more, and Al said he’d drive everyone off by playing a song no one likes but him. One that takes place in 1937. In Hell. Where the victims of Stalin’s purges were sitting around waiting for him. And everyone’s happy about it. Which must be why “Joe the Georgian” is such a happy song. Which is what Al sang, while Dave engaged in all manner of tomfoolery, but never missing a beat, even when he was playing with his guitar behind his head. There was an audience ‘clap along’ with Dave’s solo, and Joe’s term of punishment was extended from “the next few million yeas” to “the next few trillion years.” And then it was over.

As always, Al stayed around after the show to sign whatever people wanted signed, as did Dave.

And, as always, Al and Dave put on a great show.

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