Project Description

YUSUF/CAT STEVENS

Perth Arena

22/11/17

Live Review

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been half a century since British singer/songwriter Cat Stevens released his debut single and album Matthew and Son. Over the course of a decade the artist – who changed his name to Yusuf in the late seventies after converting to Islam and turning his back on the music industry – bought to the world a collection of songs that truly did define a generation. Songs of such delicate and melodic balance that hid a yearning, questioning search by their composer for a higher truth, songs that became a part of the lifeblood of the countless millions who dropped a needle onto albums like Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and The Firecat.

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Back in Australia to celebrate fifty years since his first release Yusuf packed out Perth Arena last night and lead the full house through a two and a half hour musical journey that shed light on the highs and lows of an illustrious career.

With the stage set as a West London train station the first half of the show was intimate and relaxed as the singer began with Don’t Be Shy and Where Do The Children Play? Just him and some accompanying guitar, he turned  the great chasm of space inside the Arena into an intimate club within just a few lines sung in that distinctive voice. And what a voice it still is. Soft and yet passionate, brimful of feeling, his performance came across as that of a man far younger than his 69 years of age.

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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The First Cut Is The Deepest, which Yusuf explained had been “updated by Rod Stewart” was greeted warmly by an enthusiastic crowd as was Miles From Nowhere. New songs were interjected throughout the set as well, with Yusuf explaining how a 30 year old demo languishing in his attic had become Mary and The Little Lamb from his most recent album The Laughing Apple. “I’ve given it a happy ending you’ll be pleased to know” he quipped. Indeed his wry humour and genuinely good spirits only enriched each song all the more. Demonstrating a little piece by jazz musician Yusef Lateef showed how he came to compose I Love My Dog, and (Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard was aired “via way of Jamaica” as the song was given a surprisingly buoyant reggae treatment to finish off the first half.

The second half opened with Yusuf seated at the piano for the gorgeous, haunting Sad Lisa and you could have heard a pin drop in the place. It’s the kind of song you don’t sing to or cheer until it’s done, instead you simply sit, stunned, allowing that arpeggiated piano melody to seep into your soul. As the backdrop fell to reveal the stage set as his attic full of “old junk” he then proceeded to treat the crowd to a snippet of The Beatles’ Twist And Shout from a turntable before he and his band played a great version of From Me To You, again showing his lifelong love of the Liverpool quartet.

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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From there on it was almost like a history lesson from the singer as he went right back to that first hit single Matthew and Son. There’s still an absolute, timeless quality to the songs that spans the years, and the arrangements remained faithful to the originals in every way. Changes IV and the brief title track to Tea For The Tillerman lead to Wide World – the first real crowd singalong for the night – as he was joined onstage by longtime collaborator Alun Davies.

If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out from the film Harold and Maude and a beautiful Morning Has Broken again showed that Yusuf has lost none of that resonant quality in his vocal delivery. If anything the intervening years have added a wiser, more worldly quality to its tone. The instant he began picking out the intro to Moonshadow, it was to cheers of sheer joy as the crowd all but drowned out the singer’s vocals. Again these are songs that so many of us grew up with they instantly transport one back to a time and a place when life was simpler, easier, more innocent. Such is the nature of a truly great piece of writing. Showing off his Greek roots by way of Rubylove, he also took time to explain the events that eventually lead him down the path of spirituality. The Hurt was preceded by his story of nearly drowning off the coast of Malibu before being saved by a higher power and was preceded by another tip of the hat to The Beatles in Here Comes The Sun. The gentle acoustic strum that heralded in Father and Son was a show stopping moment and it was as if the singer had truly become the elder man in the song before our very eyes. It’s a true testament to a song that it can instil such a powerful emotional reaction in you, and that’s exactly what this song does (this reviewer most certainly included). Three and a half minutes of such beauty it moves one to tears. A stomping, rousing Peace Train finished the set off on a high note as he left the stage after some band introductions.

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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Returning to encore with Can’t Keep It In from Catch Bull at Four and Maybe There’s a World from his 2006 comeback album An Other Cup, it was left once more to the Fab Four to ring out the night as the latter segued into the universal anthem of All You Need Is Love.

The artist who today is Yusuf had successfully reconciled with his former life as Cat Stevens and has once again embraced it to the full. It’s not too often one can say that they’ve sat in the presence of the voice of a generation, but for 12,000-odd lucky people in Perth they could certainly say that going home last night.

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Photo – Jesse Chance

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Check out Jesse Chance’s gallery HERE

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