In a story just last week on building their live show sister duo Tegan And Sara talked about how the modern concert is constantly evolving and what an exciting time it is for pop music. That doesn’t only go for pop music as Yusuf/Cat Stevens proved at the first of two sold-out nights at L.A.’s Pantages Theater this week.
“A Cat’s Attic” tour, celebrating his fifty years in music, is a brilliant concept that blends a one-man off Broadway show with a live concert as Stevens takes fans on an autobiographical journey from living in the attic above his parents’ café as a child to coming back to singing after years in self-imposed exile from music.
The concept has proven to be a smash at the box office as the demand for tickets in L.A. was so high promoters went with the rare route of the ticketless show, where everyone has to pick up their own tickets the night of the show, to thwart resellers. The more than 5,400 tickets for the two nights sold out in moments, as they did on every stop of the 12-city North American tour.
The show had an event feel with two lines of people waiting to get in lined up along Hollywood Blvd. In fact the crowd was so great night one of the two nights started 30 minute late to allow fans to get in the venue.
It was well worth the wait. Opening with the superb “Where Do The Children Play,” Stevens began the journey through his remarkable catalog, one that spawned three top ten singles and six top ten albums from 1970 to 1977 on his way to more than 60 million albums sold.
He followed that with “Trouble,” before switching gears into the theatrical part of the concert. For the next more than two hours he introduced almost every song by telling stories about their origins or where he was in his life. The concept is one that should be adapted by several other veteran musicians, but other than Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits, who both excel at stage banter and stories, it’s hard to think of anyone who can pull this type of narrative off as well as the amiable and charming Stevens, a thoughtful and witty storyteller.
It also helps, of course, when you have a wealth of material that has shaped the lives of your audience members. The show was a cavalcade of ‘70s singer/songwriter gold highlighted by the jubilant “If You Want To Sing Out,” “Moonshadow,” a gorgeous “Father And Son,” “How Can I Tell You,” one of the greatest love songs ever written, “First Cut Is The Deepest,” which later became a smash for Rod Stewart, the piano-based “Sad Lisa” and of course the rousing closer, “Peace Train.”
Stevens also sang a snippet of “Somewhere” to share his love for West Side Story and The Beatles’ “From Me To You” and “All You Need Is Love” to talk about how they influenced his tale. The stories he shared were as remarkable, from touring with Jimi Hendrix to nearly drowning in Malibu and turning his life to God after that near-death experience.
After abandoning his fame and music to turn to religion and changing his name to Yusuf Islam Stevens has long been one of music’s most mythical and misunderstood figures, but I got to interview him years ago and found him to be intelligent and delightful. That was on display too at the Pantages as he joked about the Monkees’ cover of Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” keeping him from No 1. He also had fun going with a funky version of “I Love My Dog” with help from his two excellent musicians, Eric Appapoulay and Kwame Yeboah.