Saturday, September 10, 2005

Al Stewart at the Mucky Duck, September 9, 2005

September 9, 2005 at the Mucky Duck in Houston, Texas. It's Al Stewart and Dave Nachmanoff.

First up was Dave playing "Not What I Expected," accompanied by Mike Lindauer playing his lovely Rick Turner five-string fretless electric bass.

For his next number, Dave played "Glorious," which, he said, had a simple chorus. Sing along if you want; if you don't just sit there. It's a free country.

And in the intro to the next song, he managed to get in a plug for his wife's ceramics business, which you can read about at And from there he went into "Thing of Beauty."

He also said that, as Al said last night, audiences hate new songs, which makes it tough being the opening act. Since no one's heard your songs before.

The next song was one that he said he'd written after he got deported from Canada. And it was "A Certain Distance."

At that point, Al entered the stave and Mike left. Al said that he didn't think he was even slightly in tune. He asked for a grace period of 45 seconds.

When his 45 seconds were up, Al played "House of Clocks." Sort of. He looked up from the set list and realized that he was playing original chords. Original to that song. Didn't belong there at all.

And then he started playing a new "jazzy and interesting" chord progression that sounded at times like if could be an intro to "Night Train to Munich." But it wasn't. Al explained that he was fearless and liked to write songs on stage.

Then he repeated the riff.

Then Dave tried it. Al frowned, shook his head and waved him off.

And then they played "Flying Sorcery."

And then more tuning. Al said it was a combination of new strings and not tuning before they came on. After a bit of back-and-forth where Al played a note and then Dave played it, Al said that there are electronic tuners for that sort of thing, but they stubbornly refuse to use them.

They finally got their D-strings synchronized, which Al suggested was the one string that was out of tune. And then he said that he'd just realized that when the bass player came back out, they'd be out of tune again.

But for the time being, it was good enough, and they started into one of those long "guess what's next" intros. It started sounding sort of Soho-ish, but soon became distinctly border-ish, and then became one of those jammin' high energy renditions of "On the Border."

Next, Al said, "We're going to do a swing tune. Audiences sometimes like swing tunes. They did last night." And they played "Night Train to Munich."

When they'd finished the song, Al said it was time to find out if the bass was in tune. He also said that the bass player didn't know the songs; he'd never heard them before. But then, none of them knew the next song.

Al said that he wanted to write a country rock because he was coming to Texas. But a country rock song needs a chorus. Al said he doesn't use that; he uses plot and character development instead. But he did it anyway.

He said he'd written the song a couple days ago. It's set in 1934. It's about a girl ripping you off.

And then there was a bit more tuning to get Mike Lindauer's bass in synch with the other instruments. While this was going on, Al told about Joni Mitchell's computer corrected guitar; no matter how out of tune it is, the computer adjusts the tone so it sounds right.

And then they played the song. It was the song he'd played the night before, the chorus of which contains the line "She asked for water and I went to the well." But this time, one of the lines in the song was "I forgot the words but you'll never know," and it seemed to have a few other improvised lyrics. Good thing it was a country rock song where only the chorus is really important.

Al said the next song was one they knew a little better. It was a song about getting old. 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. And since English people love puns, he couldn't resist "Katherine of Oregon." Then he could do "Anne of Cleveland." It could be a whole series of songs. And they played it. Then Mike again left the stage.

Al said the next song was an old Etruscan song. However, because there's no way to translate Etruscan, he had to guess at the meaning of some of the words. Some of those words ended up being "Time Passages." It sounded like Dave's guitar wasn't quite tuned in synch with Al's, but they somehow made due.

After "Time Passages," the band took a 20-minute break to allow the Mucky Duck to sell more drinks. This also provided a convenient opportunity to deal with the tuning issues. After the break, Al and Dave came back of a properly synched and tuned rendition of "Apple Cider Reconstitution."

Al said he was going back to 1915 for the next two songs. The first took place in Armenia in 1915 and it was, of course, "Rain Barrel." But Al got so carried away with the playing the intro that he for got the words and had to start over. But he got it right the second time through.

Going from Armenia to a beach somewhere in England. "I could tell you where, but I'd have to shoot you," he said, "it's wartime." And he put the capo on the third fret.

Al said that in 1915 it was the consensus that England should invade the Dardanelles--the soft underbelly of Europe--and knock Turkey out of the war. This plan was being pushed by a man named Churchill (who would make appearances in other Al songs). The man in charge, Admiral Fisher (who is featured in another Al song), thought it was a stupid idea and ultimately resigned over it.

One of the men who headed out on this expedition was a young lieutenant who was bitten by a mosquito in Greece and died. He happened to be the most famous poet of his day. He looked sort of like a blond Hugh Grant, only better looking. He began the cult of dead poets and rock stars. His name was Rupert Brooke.

His admirers included Violet Asquith, the daughter of the Prime Minister. She was so passionate about him that she watched from the beach as his ship departed. She ended up marrying a guy named Bonham Carter. Their granddaughter Helena became an actress.

The song is about the way we look at things when we first enter into them, whether they be wars, relationships, or whatever; how we start out thinking "this is going to be great" and end up thinking "what the hell was I thinking?"

And then he played "Somewhere in England 1915."

And after he'd played "Somewhere in England," he said he was going to play a jazzy tune.

Al said that for all musical styles, songs are all held together by their lyrics. He said he had a theory (which no one else subscribes to) that a "baby done you wrong" song is the same regardless of style. It can be done as heavy metal, jazz, blues, ska, but it's all the same. But a song about Rupert Brooke is unique.

And then he played something started out sounding like it might turn into "All Along the Watchtower" but turned out to be "Midas Shadow."

And then Al had a word or two about lyrics writing. Songs with plot and character development, he said, are different from stylistic songs.

Back in the 50s, all it took was four chords (which he played). Then he played an example, Al did the first verse of "Teenager in Love." That's all it took; swooped hair, four chords, and about twenty words total.

Then came the 60s, and instead of twenty words, you needed 300. And then Al, doing his best Bob Dylan (which is better than Dylan), started singing "Like a Rolling Stone."

Then came the 70s, when you could get by with only two words. And Al sang a lie or two from "Staying Alive."

Unfortunately for Al, he left school in 1963, which meant he had to put all those words in. He said he borrowed the beat for the next song from the Bee Gees, and it's all about Soho.

But first he did a verse the 50s version, demonstrating that the whole song could have been done with 20 words. But instead, he said he turned out to be the father of rap. And then he played So (Needless to Say).

During the pause between songs, a waitress delivered a note to Al. It said, among other things, that one of the people at the show thought he was coming to see Cat Stevens. So Al did a little Cat Stevens. Of course, Cat Stevens now goes by Yusuf Islam, but Al worked with him back when he was Steve Adams. (Before becoming Steve Adams, he was Steven Demetre Georgiou.) Oddly, Steve Adams/Cat Stevens' first his was "I love my dog." None of which had anything to do with what came next.

The next song was "Merlin's Time." Dave said that Al played lead guitar on "Merlin's Time" on Dave's soon-to-be-released CD of instrumental versions of Al songs. And Al said, "But does it have this?" and proceeded to play the new riff he made up at the beginning of the show.

Then Mike Lindauer came back for the next song, which was Year of the Cat. Dave's solo was awesome. It ended with strains of "Day Tripper." And when they'd finished that, they left the stage.

But, of course, the crowd wanted more.

The first encore was a request from Dave, and it was "Sand in Your Shoes." Al said he was channeling Bob Dylan when he wrote it, which is why it has all the improvised words.

Someone asked for "Roads to Moscow," but Al declined, having played that the last couple times he'd come to Houston, but he had another song dealing with the same subject matter. A dance song, in fact.

It seems that Al had observed the popularity of dance songs, and thought he'd jump on the bandwagon. And, he said, there are only two reasons why the next song wasn't a number one hit: First, it was about Joseph Stalin, and no one likes Stalin. Second, instead of American dance music, it was Russian dance music.

Although, being Russian dance music, it never made the charts in the U.S., Al said that it stirs something in Dave's Russian roots, compelling him to dance. He can't help himself.

But enough about Dave. Al explained that, like Jimmy Carter, Stalin came from Georgia. In the mid-30s, he decided to get rid of his enemies. But all his enemies were in the same party. It was as if George Bush decided to behead the Republican Senate.

The song takes place in 1937, with all the old Bolsheviks waiting around in hell to torture Stalin for all eternity. The thought of this made them happy, and it made the devil happy, and it made the Russian people happy, and Al said it makes him happy and it should make you happy.

And they played it. And they started out with Dave doing a Russian dance while playing his guitar behind his head, and occasionally breaking into dance throughout the song. There were two changes to the lyrics: "the next few million years" became "the next few trillion years," and the last (or nearly the last) "we will dance," became "HE will dance." The crowd started clapping along, and they played it faster and faster until the song was done.

And when they stopped playing, Al said "Thank you very much. My name is Petula Clark. Thank you very much."

And then it was over. Except for the line to get things signed, which went on for another half hour, at least.

Despite the technical difficulties and occasional memory lapses early on, it was a great show. Everyone seemed to have a good time, including Al and Dave, who took the glitches so well in stride that it seemed almost like they were supposed to be part of the show.

Set List:

Dave's set, accompanied by Mike Lindauer.

"Not What I Expected"
"Thing of Beauty"
"A Certain Distance"

Al's set, accompanied by Dave.

"House of Clocks"
"Flying Sorcery"
"On the Border"
"Night Train to Munich"
"She Asked for Water (and I Went to the Well)" (with Mike Lindauer on bass)
"Katherine of Oregon" (with Mike Lindauer on bass)

"Time Passages"

"Apple Cider Reconstitution"
"Rain Barrel"
"Somewhere in England 1915"
"Midas Shadow"
"Soho (Needless to Say)"
"Merlin's Time"
"Year of the Cat" (with Mike Lindauer on bass)


"Sand in Your Shoes"
"Joe the Georgian"

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