Cat Stevens delivers as Qld crowd jumps aboard peace train
FROM Steven Demetre Georgiou to Steve Adams, Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam and now Yusuf / Cat Stevens, the singer-songwriter responsible for some of the 20th century's most-recognisable and revered songs has come a long way since he released his first LP Matthew and Son more than five decades ago.
Last night's Brisbane show, part of the A Cat's Attic Peace Train Tour, commemorates the 50th anniversary of that album, and delivers a set crammed with timeless hits, a couple of numbers from his newly released, Grammy-nominated album The Laughing Apple, and is peppered with insightful and endearing anecdotes about his life and career.
As the sound of a train whistle echoes through the venue, Yusuf makes his way on to the sparsely adorned stage, which has a projection of London's West End as a backdrop, and launches straight into Don't Be Shy, a song he originally recorded for the 1972 film Harold and Maude.
Without pausing, he launches into Moonshadow, which garners a huge roar of approval from the audience and quickly transforms the almost 14,000-strong crowd into one giant, unified singalong.
"Hi, all you Brisbanites, it's nice to be back; I remember this place … I'm just here to prove that this song was written by me, not Rod Stewart," he wryly says before performing The First Cut is the Deepest, a song he originally wrote in 1965.
Backed by a talented band that includes Eric Appapoulay on guitar and backing vocals and bassist and percussionist Kwame Yeboah, Yusuf plays an unexpected cover of The Impressions' People Get Ready before giving his 1967 track Here Comes my Baby a 21st century overhaul with the adapted lyric "You'll never walk alone/and you're forever texting on the phone".
At this point, Yusuf invites us to "have a look in his attic", and the backing curtain drops, revealing a stage set designed to mimic his attic, replete with lounge chairs, a West Side Story poster, Vincent van Gogh painting and a phonograph that spins a snippet from The Beatles' Twist and Shout.
"I hope Paul (McCartney) doesn't get to hear about this, I might end up stealing some of his fans," he jokes, before launching into a faithful cover of The Fab Four's From Me to You. Upon its conclusion, he makes pointed reference to the fact he's playing Brisbane while the former Beatle is simultaneously performing to a packed house at Suncorp Stadium, playfully telling the crowd, "See, you're not missing anything."
After running through Matthew and Son - which includes a sly "I think it's kind of funny, that this sounds same" dig at Tears for Fears for lifting the bridge melody for their 1982 hit Mad World - and Big Boss Man, from his 2014 album Tell 'Em I'm Gone, he delivers a newly arranged version of Blackness of the Night, which he dedicates to refugees.
According to Yusuf, Engelbert Humperdinck's son is in the audience last night, and he proceeds to regale us with a story about the English pop singer teaching how to drink port and brandy, "which probably wasn't a good idea in hindsight but I was also touring with Jimi Hendrix, so it balances out", before winding up his first set with Tea for the Tillerman track On the Road to Find Out.
After intermission, the show resumes with Changes IV and Miles from Nowhere, before Yusuf welcomes his former right-hand man, guitarist Alun Davies on stage for an emotionally wrought rendition of Where do the Children Play, followed by several numbers from his prolific 1970s period, including If You Want to sing Out, Rubylove, The Hurt, Oh Very Young and The Wind.
Yusuf then tells of how he came to embrace Islam after nearly drowning off the coast of California in 1976, explaining that he was saved when a wave pushed him to shore after exclaiming "God, if you save me I will work for you". "Very soon, I was back on land and God had given me back my life," he says, before treating the audience another Beatles number - a stunning take George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun.
New song See What Love Did to Me slots into the set effortlessly before Yusuf is again joined by Davies, who helps wrap up the set with the evergreen Wild World, which garners the biggest singalong of the night, and the goosebump-inducing Peace Train.
After exiting the stage briefly, Yusuf and his band return for a reggae interpretation of (Remember the Days of the) Old School Yard and a searing version of Morning Has Broken before finishing with I Can't Keep It In.
With a humble, "Thank you my friends, thank you for coming. Peace be with you," the Peace Train has reached the end of the line for the night and Yusuf is treated to a well-deserved standing ovation.
Yusuf plays with a passion and vigour that belies his 69 years, and manages to project a warmth and intimacy that is often difficult to convey at a stadium show. The artist formerly known as Cat has had many lives but everyone at Brisbane Entertainment Centre is visibly delighted by the fact this musical icon has chosen to revisit his rich songbook.
Yusuf / Cat Stevens performs at Brisbane Entertainment Centre again tonight