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Cat Stevens Yusuf concert review

December 2nd, 2014 · 25 Comments · Music, Weird Things About Me

If you’re a Cat Stevens fan — and you know who you are! — stop reading this.

Close the link and go somewhere else. Anywhere.

Keep your music and memories intact. Beautiful gardens are too hard to find in this world.




Okay?  Nobody here who doesn’t want their bubble burst?

Just makin sure.




Holy historic frickin weirdness!

Apparently “Cat Stevens” died a long time ago of a self-inflicted something back in the 1970s, and he is not currently on tour.  As brother Barnaby caught me afterwards, “That was not Cat Stevens on stage. That was some guy named Yusuf playing Cat Stevens songs.”

I hate to say it … I love the guy’s music … but sadly there was just no authentic anything there.  Just . . . nothing.  “Soulless” was the word that kept coming up in my mind over and over all night in hopes of it being dispelled … but it never was.

This is a guy hitting the jukebox (which, hey! I love to hear ’em too!), but this is not “a band” by any stretch … in fact, what WAS this?  It can’t be a money grab.  He’s loaded.  He’s not trying to reestablish himself in music or he’d have a top-notch band … and be doing more than 6 puckin shows!  Like, … what is this?  A toe in the water of a sea he swam away from a long time ago?

Sumpthin’s off here . . . and I’m a fan!  And in fact I’m a little “off” meself, and I actually think his new album rocks!  But … boy …

The Cat who wrote those songs — that beatific joyful soul bouncing on a stool, the cherubic smile … doesn’t exist … 

I flashed on Donovan — similarly cherubic guy — peace & love — same era, same dozen Top 10 Hits — you go see that guy today and it’s a very soulful experience — he makes you feel like you’re the only one in the room . . . that connection between an authentic artist communicating … with an audience he has no fear walking among … [See Security Warnings Ahead]

And who knows what it is with Yusuf’s religious stuff — but not only was there no Allah / Islam at all (and I didn’t spot a hijab all night), this was more of a Christian gospel show if anything — Morning Has Broken being a Christian hymn he turned into a hit single, and his Curtis Mayfield cover of “People Get Ready” is straight-up gospel —

but it’s more that this guy hasn’t been functioning as a band, as a performer, as a conveyor of songs — he’s superficially warm, but with these pat showbiz lines you can hear echoing from every place he’s said them for years.

And he’s definitely not a “band” guy . . . like, you know how at the end of a show the bandmates come together and hug after their amazing once-ever journey … and salute the audience for their role … yeah, well, there’s none of that here.  Bandmate connection nor audience acknowledgement.


Picture, if you will, any major singer-songwriter type person you’ve seen in the last year, or five, or ten . . . call up that band in your head . . . the one supporting Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Phil Lesh, Roger Waters, Robert Plant … all similar hit-rich people from the same era … where you wouldn’t even need the front guy those bands are so good.  I mean, I saw Gordon Lightfoot last year — and his band was better than this!
And by that I mean — they were part of the equation, the conversation, the storytelling, participants, accents, taking a solo for a ride … some fuckin purpose other than musical wallpaper.

But then — when the players are set back 25 feet away from the leader in the far corners of the stage, in the dark, with the rhythm section separated from the keys & guitar by a 50 foot train station such that they can’t even see each other — it’s pretty hard to lock into a groove.

And then there was the part where — you know how you hit the men’s room right after a show — I can only speak for the pants side of the divide — but people are whoopin’ and singing the songs and “Hey, wasn’t that great?!!”  And, “How ’bout THAT!”  And everybody’s yippin and yappin and jazzed from the magic they just experienced . . . but the basement of Massey Hall (the only men’s room in the joint) was a fuckin morgue.  Not one person was saying a thing — it was creepy ominous weird — and this is a huge bathroom with like 50 guys in it — and … dead.  Nuthin.  Like when you’re at a sporting event and the home team’s lost and no one’s talking about it and everyone just wants to get out of there.

Oh — and then before it started ! … don’t get me started!  . . . all I’m sayin is, there’s sumpthin screwy in the belfry.  You won’t believe it but . . . so, fer one, it was this whole ticketless ticket scheme to circumvent scalpers — which is admirable in theory — except … they have to check every single person’s credit card and print a ticket — and even every guest’s photo I.D. … for why?! — and there was a line around the block from 6:00 til 9:00 . . . for an 8:00 showtime …

and THEN half the time when people got to the door the credit card scanner didn’t work — and they had to go stand in a second line … and it’s like minus ten celsius — and they’ve been waiting for an hour on the first line!
Good times!

and THEN there’s the full blown walk-thru airport metal-detectors … with guards and wands … and you put your stuff in this grey bin while you walk thru and they search you … sick shit.  Over the night I talked to a bunch of longtime Massey staff and they’ve never had anything like this.  And even the will-call guests like Ron Sexsmith I spotted … had to empty their pockets and go thru full-on full-body metal detector.  Any of my showbiz friends ever remember seeing this?

and THEN … you can’t take photographs! . . . maybe with a flash, sure, I can understand that … but people paying 2 or 3 hundred bucks a seat should be able to take a lousy picture with their phone for their kids — especially since they couldn’t buy them tickets cuz a person could only buy two.  And so all night there’s these photo narcs running around poopin on these pleasant aging beatific hippies just wanting to have a good time one last night in their life.

and THEN you couldn’t even stop pre-show in front of the stage to check it out — seriously … I mean, like, a half hour before the show … just standing there checking out the stage gear … and “You can’t do that.”  What?

At one point I circumnavigated them, and got talking with the guitar tech, cuz I wanted to ask about that cool lookin National electric he’s playing.  And the guy says, “It’s a piece of shit. A $3,000 piece of shit.” 🙂

And then the fuckin security narcs swoop in and that’s the end of that little chat.

So . . . all this shit’s goin’ on …

and then … “Cat Stevens” comes on stage … right? … except it isn’t Cat Stevens at all.  Whoever this guy is, he’s definitely not Cat Stevens.  And he should stop using his name.

And for sure I dig — despite the fatwa and all that shit … this cellularly walking Cat-Yusuf human was given the Nobel “Man of Peace” Award, and gives tons of money to charities and stuff, and I’m sure in his weird convoluted heart he’s trying to do good things … but … music’s sure low down on that totem pole.

remember “I hope I die before I get old?”  How that made so much sense when we were dumb.  I mean, young. … before we learned that artists can, y’know, grow.

This is really a case where a guy retired from the big leagues long ago, and never really kept up his chops … and now he’s comin back in the World Series … at least he’s chargin World Series prices for a nearly seven-game series of theater shows … and he’s comin in with these School of Rock kids backing him singing the old hits … passionlessly … I mean, beyond the showmanship way that he pretended he gave a shit, it was so fucking inauthentic … I got the feeling he didn’t even “get” his own songs.  Or at least didn’t give a shit.  Maybe I’ve been blessed and spoiled over the last many years seeing all the masters I mentioned above, but this was the least authentic musical show I’ve attended since I can’t remember.

Here’s this guy singing, “If you wanna sing out, sing out, … If ya wanna be free, be free …” who brought the first airport metal detectors into Massey Hall, and won’t let his fans take a picture of him on stage or stand in front of it.  It’s a pretty fuckin funny idea of freedom this guy’s got.

And, y’know, I keep trying to get to the music here to tell you about it … but there was just so much bullshit in the water … and it was so phoney … just … Not Real.  And I’m 10 rows back on the floor right in front of him.  This is not a real guy makin real music.  And the kicker — his new album is rockin.  If he’d only apply himself, this guy might get somewhere.

On the upside, they got a really purdy (Peace) Train Station set and bigsky backdrop … dressed ‘er up mighty fine, but, Musicians Alert: if you weren’t in on a song, you had to sit on a bench outside the faux Train Station acting like you’re hot and waiting for a train …

And musically . . . every fucking song was 2½ minutes or less, made to Casey Kasem / Jack-radio Jackshit order.  I mean, really?  The only time he broke out of the rote bullshit was when he was playing the new stuff.  Which is so weird!  I mean, maybe he can grow this groove . . . there’s an optimistic line to follow . . . and maybe someday he’ll get back to the promised land of soul in sound.

In the meantime, I’ll always have the memories of hearing Peace Train at Massey Hall — but boy was it weird!

If you wanna hear the hits of Cat Stevens sung in the original voice you can theoretically do that in one of 6 theaters in North America.  And if you’re there and close your eyes you can maybe hear it like you once heard it … but if you opened your eyes and looked at this guy, in so many ways … he’s not there.  So … keep that original image and sound alive … “preserve your memories” as Paul Simon put it.

Cuz like a lot of others, Cat Stevens died in the ’70s.





For some other musical Adventures . . .

Check out the time The Dead, The Band and Janis took a rock n roll train trip across Canada on the Festival Express.

Or there’s the time Paul Simon did Graceland in Hyde Park with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jimmy Cliff and loads of others.

Or here’s the great Johnny Clegg recently at a small venue Toronto show.

Or here was when Neil Young was at this same Massey Hall doing both acoustic and electric back in 2007.

Or here’s the Dr. John in Toronto adventure.

Or here’s the time Dylan showed up at a Springsteen Stadium at Shea Stadium.

Or here’s the time John Lennon left the public sphere not long after Cat Stevens did.

Or here’s the time The Grateful Dead played my 30th birthday.

Or in general here’s the RockPeaks greatest live performances ever captured on film.



by Brian Hassett

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25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Levi Asher // Dec 2, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    Great article. Because you really wanted so much to like it, and tried so hard to look past the problems until you couldn’t, this really rings true.

  • 2 Brian // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    Thanks for getting it, my brother. Huge hugs.

  • 3 Chris Foster // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:11 AM

    Wow, thanks for the heads up, Brian. Sorry the show was so weird.

  • 4 Mitch Potter // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    Wow, you make Ben Raynor sound like a gushing toady, which is a rare feat. No knives barred — except at the door.

  • 5 Dave Sylvestre // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    Great account Brian!

  • 6 Jerry Cimino // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    I wanna read it and I can’t bring myself to do so. I don’t even want to glance at the comments! Say it ain’t so, Brian!

  • 7 Brian // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Hey! Sorry. But glad I included the warning … and you heeded it. Cherish your good memories of Cat Stevens … great songwriter with a warm, happy voice. That’s all you need to know.

  • 8 Jerry Cimino // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    Hahaha … ridin’ on the Peace Train…

  • 9 Daniel Rotstein // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    Classic Hassett!! I laughed all the way through….

    Sure sounded like a weird night.

  • 10 Betsy Myers // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Wonderful writing. Sorry the show wasn’t what it could have been.

  • 11 Barnaby Marshall // Dec 2, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Great review! You captured it really well. I still think the band deserve more credit than you gave them, that drummer was oozing emotion and verve, and was totally into it. They are talented players constrained by their leader. But overall, spot on.

  • 12 Steve Vincent // Dec 2, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    I was a big fan, loved his music as a kid, even bought some of the old stuff 10 years ago, so I braved the warning and read all the way through. Wow. What a disappointment this must have been. And what a mystery too. He must be a very confused Cat. Excessive preoccupation with religion will do that to you.

  • 13 Shawn Smith // Dec 2, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Good review.
    As much as I loved the music, I wasn’t going to go out of principal anyway as he has been an ardent Hamas and Hezbolla supporter for decades.

  • 14 Becky Wright // Dec 2, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    I would have KILLED to get tickets. Glad I didn’t. What a shame.

  • 15 Mary Jo Hicks-Sullivan // Dec 2, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    You warned me, but I read it anyway. Sad.

  • 16 Dale Topham // Dec 2, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Good for you for going! I’m afraid I would not have crossed the street for this one… and I with a vinyl copy of “Tea for the Tillerman” on my broad shelf. Thanks for the Lightfoot reference. I saw Gordon with sidemen John Stockfish and Red Shea at Massy Hall in the late sixties. Nice to know he’s going strong! Too bad the Cat was so disappointing.

  • 17 Susan Derrickson // Dec 2, 2014 at 4:34 PM

    After seeing him perform on one of the evening shows last year with sunglasses and a Tea for the Tillerman tee shirt on I was so turned off that I never had the desire to see him again. There was a frame claiming to be him with no sense of soul present. It saddened me. The article confirms my experience.

  • 18 Garret Ehrle // Dec 2, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    Wow, what a bummer Brian. I’m sorry to hear you had such a disappointing time. It does, however, as others have pointed out, make for an interesting read and does as well, beg the question (as you’ve postulated) – why is he touring? I would suggest that perhaps, he’s not as wealthy as we might assume (I have no idea how profitable or not his years as Yusuf have been), and he obviously does have a new album to promote. As a kid, I loved hearing Cat Stevens on the radio. He was a great singer/songwriter. Ultimately though, it’s “Showbiz” baby, and I can’t tell you how many “Heritage” or “Classic” acts I’ve seen over the years that are just phoning it in. You make a good argument for the old axiom, “You can’t go home again”.

  • 19 Mary Jo Hicks-Sullivan // Dec 2, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    You CAN go home again. Maybe Cat isn’t able or willing to, but others are doing it. Just look at the sold out Billy Joel concerts at MSG. Of course he didn’t leave the music scene altogether, but he is back home, better than ever.

    And Brian, my good memories of Cat will always remain. People change, life goes on, but memories help keep us sane.

  • 20 Joe Myles // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Glad I didn’t come all the way to T.O. for that!! Although doing a Hassett sneak in to Steve Hackett tonight would have been worth the trip!!!

  • 21 Clancy Dennehy // Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56 PM

    Leave that stone unturned … stay home … get stoned … give the vinyl a turn.

  • 22 James DesRoches // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    I was there. It was an excellent show in every way, except the security delay to get in and the short intermission. There was nothing rote or stale about the things he said and he obviously put time and effort into freshening up his repertoire.

  • 23 Roger Belton // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    An interesting read, for sure, Bri.

  • 24 Kathy Ryan // Dec 2, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    What a disappointment! You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not!!:/

  • 25 John Allore // Dec 2, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    So disappointing. Sigh…

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