It’s not every day that you are fortunate enough to witness a living legend in the flesh, but that’s just what Perth music fans were gifted on Wednesday night as Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) rolled into town for the first show of his Peace Train Tour.
Unlike other ripened artists whose music hasn’t aged as tremendously as Stevens’, no support act was required for the night’s proceedings, with people flooding into Perth Arena for the 8pm start time. As the venue swelled with fans eager to get a glimpse of the legendary British singer-songwriter, the stage was illuminated showing a large curtain backdrop textured with an image of London’s skyline, while West End signs bookmarked the stage – a telling sign that Stevens intended to bring his fans on an intimate tour of his life’s work.
A powerful aura of disbelief swept over the crowd as the man himself casually strolled onstage to the thundering rupture of the near-capacity crowd. It was immediately clear that his Australian return could not have come sooner, as the faces around me were filled with unfiltered awe. Not saying a word, his guitar was soon in hand and the show launched with a rendition of ‘Don’t Be Shy’. Not allowing the crowd to gather their thoughts, this quickly transitioned to those instantly recognisable opening chords of ‘Where Do The Children Play’. For those of us who experience the phenomenon of music frisson, this truly was a “hair on the back of your neck” moment.
“It’s great to be back in this beautiful city,” remarked Stevens, as the show continued with a number of inspired renditions, including ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’, Rod Stewart’s ‘People Get Ready’, ‘The Wind’, and ‘Miles From Nowhere’. The latter saw the concert take an energetic turn with the 69-year-old displaying his ever impressive guitar skills. All the while, each member of his backing band would individually wander onto stage unannounced in the middle of a song, pick up their respective instruments (of which they played at least two), and proceed to join in. I guess it’s reasonable to say that you need to be fairly talented to tour the world with Cat Stevens.
All through the show, joking allusions to an impending “train” were made by Stevens, a reference to the obvious choice for the tour’s closing anthem. Yet it was the closing song before intermission that served as a highlight of the night, as Stevens announced, “Now, I want to go back to the old schoolyard… but we’re going to do it in Jamaica,” and launched into a reggae-infused version of his 1977 hit ‘(Remember The Days of the) Old School Yard’ – a pleasantly surprising twist on an old favourite that showed this old dog is constantly learning new tricks.
The second half of the night began with a stripped back performance of ‘Sad Lisa’, before the singer declared, “Welcome to my attic!” This immediately saw the London-backdropped curtain fall, revealing a stage design that reimagined the singer’s English attic and seemingly transformed the 12,500-person strong crowd into a cosy gathering between friends. Recalling his love for Van Gough, Disney and the play ‘West Side Story’ as a youth, the singer then revealed another one of his early influences by playing an old Beatles record and dancing around his “room” to the tune of ‘Twist and Shout’ – just as you would if you were home alone. This moment truly encapsulated the intimate and open journey that the crowd witnessed during the course of the night, learning interesting tidbits of information relating to Stevens’ musical career along the way (including the skills he learnt while touring with Jimmy Hendrix).
Tearing through other incredible numbers in his catalogue such as ‘Matthew and Son’, ‘Morning Has Broken’, ‘Moonshadow’ and ‘If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out’, Stevens showed little sign of his age displaying phenomenal vocal skills and an energetic stage presence. A particularly special moment was an onstage embrace between himself and fellow British singer Alun Davies – who Stevens said “brought a sparkle into his life” – before the two veterans shared the stage for a memorable performance of ‘Wild World’.
Flexing his ability to evoke the strongest of human emotions, Stevens closed the show in an emotive roller coaster with the sentimental ‘Father and Son’, and the uplifting ‘Peace Train’. Much to the satisfaction of the screaming fans, the singer returned to the stage once more for encore performances of ‘Can’t Keep It In’ and The Beatles’ classic, ‘All You Need Is Love’.
Stevens showed the Perth audience that he is unwilling to let age impact the power of his music by continuing to the spread the magic of his melody-driven songs in person. Portraying his intrinsically good-natured persona through jovial back-and-forths with crowd members over the course of the night, fans were left feeling deeply satisfied by what could potentially be the last time the music legend tours Australia. Let’s hope it isn’t.