Cat Stevens Wraps First U.S. Tour in 35 Years

The singer's five-city trek is a journey through covers that influenced him early in his career
Danny Clinch

The word "journey" was said multiple times during the final concert of Yusuf/Cat Stevens' brief U.S. tour, his first in 35 years. It was used as a metaphor and literally, with the artist speaking both about his life, the lyrics of songs from the early 1970s and his two most recent albums. Without question, this tour indicates that Stevens' interrupted journey with his fans is back on track and his power as a musician, singer and charmer undiminished.

A dilapidated train station provided a fitting backdrop — it is the Peace Train Tour, after all — for this 32-song evening at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre. Many in the sold-out crowd of 7,000 had waited nearly four decades to board this train, and as standing ovations greeted album tracks such as "Where Do the Children Play," "Sad Lisa" and "Miles From Nowhere," it was clear few came to hear hits. The devotion is to the LP format, specifically his breakthrough LP, 1970's Tea for the Tillerman.

Backed by his band mate from those heady days, guitarist Alun Davies, and four young musicians, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer delivered one convincing performance after another, hewing close to recorded versions driven largely by his acoustic guitar sound, still richly broad yet intimate.

Stevens' voice remains full of the character that provided intellectual and libidinal stimulation 40 years ago; it's easy to forget or overlook the fact that guitar-strumming thoughtful guys like Stevens, James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg provided the charms of Beck and Justin Timberlake in one package.

Unlike other acts who came to define the post-Beatles singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s, the man who went by Cat Stevens disappeared from music, returning first in tabloid reports with the name of Yusuf Islam and in 2009 with an album, Road Singer, that married the unique qualities of albums such as Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat with his modern station in life. His new album, Tell 'Em I'm Gone, on Sony Legacy, extends that milieu, albeit veering into blues structures, a first for the former pop star.

Without mentioning the existence of the new album — and the reason for this five-city tour — Yusuf/Stevens took listeners on a (what else?) journey through the album's covers that influenced him early on in his career: The blues of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man"; the spirituality of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready"; the out-of-character music of Edgar Winter and Procol Harum. He discreetly included two of the album's bluesy originals, "Editing Floor Blues" and "Gold Digger"; for whatever reason, he had more to say about his 2009 release Roadsinger.

Nostalgia may have been a key reason this tour sold out in minutes. It's Yusuf/Stevens' ability to deliver songs new and old without artifice that makes his journey one that need not end with this stop.

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