Last weekend we went to an Al Stewart show at one of our local venues, the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry NH. Let me say we really like this venue. It is in a barn like structure, holds around 200 people or so, and no one is more than about 60 feet from the stage. They host artists on their way up, or those mature acts past their prime of filling huge halls. The focus is on folk, blues, rock, and here and there some related music like Celtic bands.
Al was joined on stage by Dave Nachmanoff, who appears to be Al's sideman or protege. Dave opened the show solo, and opened the second set solo. The two played acoustic guitars, with Dave providing the lead and special effects. It was an enjoyable show, and besides the little trouble the two gentlemen had keeping their guitars in tune due to the heat and humidity, there were no problems. I was only disappointed that they didn't play more of my favorite Al Stewart tunes, but what they did play was done very well. We worried the lack of orchestration would leave us unsatisfied with the music (as many of Al's recorded ballads feature liberal amounts of piano, horns, stringed instruments, etc), but the two pulled it off quite well.
Among my favorites were Lord Grenville, a superb version of On The Border, and of course the signature Year Of The Cat. Dave's guitar work was just excellent on a number of songs and really brought the feel of the original recordings to the live venue. Dave obviously idolizes Al, and the two gave us quite a bit of good natured banter between songs. Al also told a number of interesting antidotes about where the songs came from or his earlier life and how he came to be where he is now; these were almost always prompted by Dave so there is another pitch for what he brings to the show.
At the heart of it, Al Stewart is a folk musician. Listening to his recorded catalog one may forget that, with all the orchestration and big hit ballads. Many of the songs played that evening were old folk tunes he had written and played in his youth, and he likes to haul them out during his shows. There is apparently no fixed set list, Al decides what he wants to play and Dave has to figure out what it is and jump in. It was quite humorous at times. Al was lively enough for a guy (by my rough calculations) pushing 66 years young.
I like that Al writes songs about quite a variety of topics, and is not stuck in the rut many song writers are stuck writing about lost love. More importantly I like how Al paints pictures in my head. His words may not resonate for everyone, but for me his ability to create a striking image in just a few carefully crafted sentences is magical. For example, take these lines from Year Of The Cat:
"She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running, Like a watercolor in the rain"
"She doesn't give you time for questions, As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow 'till your sense of which direction, Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls, There's a hidden door she leads you to"
And then there is On The Border:
"The wind whips up the waves so loud, The ghost moon sails among the clouds, Turns the rifles into silver on the border"
Oh, and in Road To Moscow we get lines like these:
"Two broken Tigers on fire in the night, flicker their souls to the wind"
"And the evening sighs and the steely Russian skies go on forever"
I find he is a good role model for cleverly turning a sentence. Painting your picture in just a few sentences is powerful and it keeps the attention of your audience. I try where I can to remember this lesson whether I am writing in my work, or creatively for stories, or as a GM in my games.