- June 20, 1971
Written by: Bud Scuppa
CAT STEVENS: It Must Be
It must be destiny.
Cat Stevens couldn't come
along at a better time. Time (magazine) has informed us that were entering a
period of gentle, reflective, and introspective music, so I guess its official now.
Unfortunately, even the best of this new breed of quietly suffering culture heroes can
become mighty oppressive unless some variety is inserted into the listeners musical
diet. James Taylor has never felt comfortable about cutting loose. And Elton John, who has
been known to holler and dance on stage if not on record, has revealed himself to be a
formula writer-performer (hes like a quarterback whos gonna keep running the
same play until he stops gaining on it). Peers of those two are stuck in their own ruts.
With Cat Stevens, we have
one writer who can write an introspective song without getting so, well, personal about
it; we have one performer whos equally at ease with sentiment and shouting. Tea for
the Tillerman is a more satisfying listening experience than other commercially successful
solo albums because Cat Stevens emotional and musical range isnt nearly so
rigidly defined as that of James Taylor, Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, or David Crosby.
Could any other of these performers have put across a song of the ilk of Stevens
"Hard Headed Woman"? I cant imagine it in Crosbys hands, or
Taylors, and yet the song in no way undercuts the image of a genteel Cat Stevens
singing "Into White," or a frankly sentimental Stevens sighing through
"Fill My Eyes." Theyre all undeniably him, and theyre all
Because he ranges so
widely, Cat Stevens has appeal to all kinds of listeners. His lyrics are clever and always
interestingly structured; people who like to follow along on their lyric sheets are
endlessly intrigued by the twists and turns Cats words take. But others (myself
included), with less inclination toward a scholastic approach to pleasure, can find
delight in the flow and texture of his songs. Those graceful but fun-loving acoustic
guitar parts arent the least of the wonders to be found in his music.
When its all strung
together, a Cat Stevens song will magically appear to be an inventive assimilation of
tradition elements to folk purists and a slick commercial product to AM programmers. His
songs are so direct, informally elegant, and unassuming that they resemble the best
examples of various genres of vocal music. Or maybe he is magic. It would seem so to
people whove seen Cat Stevens life-size.
When he took the stage for
the first time in the just-opened "expanded" Gaslight (formerly the Cafe au Go
Go), a young female voice coming from the small mob seated on the floor before the stage
was heard to swoon: "Oooh! I cant believe it! Its really him! Look,
Joyce, there he is!" Others were more in control of themselves, but Im sure
many were thinking the same thing.
Hes dark and intense
looking (Greek blood), but when he smiles, he literally radiates, and you forget that
brooding first impression instantly. He is, in fact, much like his songs: straightforward
and completely guileless. He has the beautifully open kind of face youd wish for in
a friend. Upon seeing Cat Stevens, its nearly impossible to maintain a cynical
attitude, regardless of ones attitude toward his music. (An editor friend of mine
saw him last fall, and at the end of his sets, whispered, "I dont really like
all his songs, but hes so charming.")
At the Gaslight, Cat
wasnt in his best voice, and the vocal mike was turned up a twist too high (turning
his shouting crescendos into all but painful moments), but hardly anybody seemed to
notice. After his first song, Cat mentioned that coming to New York after a week in Los
Angeles was like "coming home" for him. When the audience responded with warm
clapping, he smiled in embarrassment, then explained, "I didnt say that to get
you to applaud or anything." See what I mean? Guileless. See now what that editor
Partner Alan Davies worked
with typical tastefulness, intertwining his acoustic guitar lines with Stevens and
adding delicate and perfectly placed bits of vocal harmony. An electric bass player whose
name I dont recall also appeared, but he had little to play through most of the
tunes. Stevens and Davies get such a full sound with their two guitars that additional
instrumentation is often superfluoustheyre a highly compact
rocknroll band in disguise.
There was another addition
to the instrumentation for this tour, this one more valuable. A piano was provided by the
management, and Cat showed himself to be an enthusiastic and effective piano
playerif not an expert oneon three songs during the middle of his set. His
piano playing particularly enhanced "Where Do The Children Play."
After the stint at the
piano, he went back to his guitar. Explaining that hed had enough of sitting down,
Cat pushed away the stool hed used while playing guitar earlier, and finished the
set standing up. We were expecting "Peace Train," a powerful and
climacticbut as yet unrecordedsong that always gets his audiences on their
feet, for his encore, but he didnt take one. Lines of people outside were pressing
to get in, and the clubs management evidently wanted to keep things moving along.
This was a far cry from the
full, but not overfull house that had been charmed by Cat Stevens at the old Gaslight just
four months before. We had him practically to ourselves then. No more.
But thats okay. How
can you argue with destiny?