Rain, rain, rain. If it were snow, the radio told me this morning, it would be a foot deep at least. But it peaked at about 60 F today -- unusually warm for November. So we get rain.
Al Stewart on stage comes across as amiable, bookish and late middle-aged (which he is, at 58, complete with receding hairline) -- and as someone who just happens to have a remarkable talent for the guitar, with a penchant for lyricism. He was dressed so unremarkably that I can't remember anything about it, and his guitar wasn't anything to look at either, though he said at one point that he owns a number of them, but none as good as "this second-hand one with a crack in it."
Obviously he was in his element, a small venue. Almost without warning he wandered on to the stage, and started noodling with the guitar, getting it ready to play. "I would do this backstage, normally, but there’s no backstage here." His speaking voice, squeaky and almost unnaturally high for a man, took a few moments to get used to, and didn't betray too much of his native Glasgow (I don’t know for sure, but I think he's lived in California for a long time now). In any case, after however many countless stage shows, he's quite at ease on stage, smiling, bantering with the small audience, telling an anecdote or two, and then breaking into song. After which, if the song needed some explanation, he offered it.
Some of his stories involved the London of the late 1960s, which I'm sure he's fully aware that his audiences consider a Time and a Place worth hearing about. He dropped some names, too. Almost so lightly that you didn't realize what he was doing. One London 1967 story involved meeting Yoko Ono, who talked him into investing £100 in one of her worthless avant-garde films. "The next year, she went on to marry a more famous guitar player than me. [Laughter from the audience.] Haven’t seen her since."
All together, the show was just shy of two hours, and it was just Stewart and his guitar. His playlist ranged broadly across the 30-odd years he's been recording. It was a different kind of show than the only other time I've seen him live, at a somewhat larger venue called Park West in Chicago in early 1989. He was touring with a band at that time -- including a terrific saxophonist whose name I don't know -- and promoting his then-new album The Last Days of the Century. That was a good show, but with more of a standard musician-on-tour feeling than Saturday’s gig. This time around he didn't have a new record out, and I got the sense that he plays live because he feels like it.
And who wouldn't, with an audience of enthusiasts? More on that tomorrow.