Daryl`s House Club, Pawling, NY


Al Stewart at Daryl`s House, Saturday, August 1, 2015  

Al played the former Towne Crier, now run by Daryl Hall of the rock-blues-whatever duo Hall and Oates, last Saturday. 

I originally arranged to meet Carol V there, but pulled a gradual bait-and-switch on her, inviting first my wife Nancy, not an Al fan, but wanting to give him a try; and then my daughter Morgen, who was coming to town for the weekend. Carol was a good sport about it, though, and did most of the logistics, so thanks. 

The Towne Crier was quite an intimate venue; Daryl’s House has knocked out the back wall, and it’s 50% larger than it was, but it’s still a big, somewhat noisy restaurant with a stage, not a concert hall. We arrived around 6:30 for dinner before the music, and got a table right next to the stage. Carol arrived shortly afterward. The food was quite good in a modern-American-cuisine sort of way. Unfortunately, Morgen is sensitive to even the odor of shrimp, and that delicious but hazardous arthropod is well-represented on the menu, so by concert time she was drinking shots of straight ginger-ale and whimpering. 

A blues-singer named Marc Black opened for Al. I was skeptical-tending-toward-bringing-earplugs-and-a-book prior to the evening. The last time I heard a ‘political’ opening-act in Pawling it was a guy, name mercifully forgotten, who opened for Tom Paxton and who was perfectly matched with him, politically, except that he was trying to do political humor and was Very Not Funny, even to a crowd of almost-certain True Believers ‘cause they were coming to see Tom friggin’ Paxton after all. There’s hardly anything so excruciating as a roomful of people who _agree_ with the performer’s politics trying not to run from the room clutching their heads in agony. But Marc Black was a smart, insightful, funny songwriter and good blues-guitarist. He even got us singing a bit, something I always like. His song ‘Part of the Truth’ was particularly smart and topical. He said he’d had a conversation with Al about lyrics-writing before his set, something I’d kill* to do. 

Then there was a break. Morgen continued to turn green. Nancy has trouble hearing lyrics at trad-folk concerts where the performers enunciate and the sound-levels are set to correspond with actual human physiology rather than the near-deaf-soon-to-be-totally-deaf levels associated with modern acts, so the opening set was basically a dead loss for her. She took out her hearing aids, but it didn’t help much. 

Photo copyright by Lois Dysard/Daryl`s House Club

Al came out to enthusiastic applause and was immediately confronted by a low-frequency feedback problem which he likened to ‘bombers overhead’. I bet there’s not a single other performer who’s ever been to Daryl’s House that would’ve made that connection, especially since the tone was much more reminiscent of Heinkels than of B-52s. 

For a near-seventy-year-old who’s probably played every song on his set-list five hundred times, Al’s a tremendously lively, enthusiastic performer. He does some quite complex guitar-work in his solo show, not always perfectly but with immense joy and verve; his singing-diction is good and his pitch impeccable, though he’s altered a number of melodies to take out potentially problematic high-notes. Morgen, who’s a music-education major, violinist, and relentless music-snob, thought his voice tired toward the end of the set, but I couldn’t tell. 

He started with House of Clocks; a good opener, then, by way of a very funny intro that mentioned ‘all the French revolutions’ segued into Palace of Versailles, one of Morgen’s faves. Following that was Flying Sorcery; introduced by noting that ‘just call me if you ever need repairs’ is his favorite line from that song, and what else can you say when a relationship ends, since it’s not a flying-song it’s a metaphorical relationship-song. 

That drew my attention to just how metaphorically-rich Al’s canon is; for every linear masterpiece like Roads to Moscow, there’s something much less direct. 

Broadway Hotel was introduced with a flat-out-hilarious story about a Hungarian gymnast about to commit suicide in a hotel suite who was saved by her accomplishment of a standing quadruple-flip on the bed and the timely advent of room-service. I wonder how many BH intros there are. 

He went straight from Broadway Hotel into a prolonged guitar intro to On the Border, wandering the stage and flirting with the fourth and fifth best-looking women** in the front row of tables while playing the intro; to their obvious delight. 
Commenting on his approach to songwriting, which is to avoid the stuff everyone else is writing about, he introduced Warren Harding, commenting that he’s much more up on the bad presidents than the good ones, if anybody wants to know anything about Frank Pierce, he’s your man. From Warren Harding he moved, naturally enough, to Like William McKinley, another metaphorical song completely unrelated to William McKinley. 

From that, Al mentioned his first musical idol was Duane Eddy, and he played the Duane Eddy riff that he first learned on the guitar, and used that to recall going through phases loving film, music, literature, and history, and you put those together and you’ve got a career – to great applause. This was a lovely intro to Time Passages, a song I’ve never cared for, but which does have a last line which, at this time in my life, has a great deal more resonance than it used to. 

Al’s a pro on stage, in case it was ever in doubt after what, fifty years? His guitar dynamics are superb; he brings the strums down while he’s singing, brings them back up for the ornaments between lines, then back down, not that that helped Nancy at all. And I’m just awed by the energy he brings to performance; I guess it’s a rock thing, hardly anybody in the folk world except the dance-bands have that level of dynamism, though it’s easier to hear the words. 

Al began his next intro with ‘I once wrote a happy song’; which ended up being ‘Genie on a Tabletop’, joyous and gorgeous. 

Al’s quite a skilled comedian. Though I don’t have the words in my notes, his comic timing in the intro to Katherine of Oregon was perfect. 

Daryl’s house has several big-screen TVs scattered about. It seemed to me that half the audience was staring at screens rather than at the live performer who wasn’t over 25 feet away from any of them. This may be a sign of our modern, evil conditioning to consider screens the reality rather than, say, reality, but I guess I’m an old fart. 

Al reminded us that rap’s nothing new; that rhythm goes way back in music history, with some pretty hilarious examples. He then did Soho, a song he said he’s reasonably sure nobody will ever cover, which makes me want to take a stab at it, though I probably don’t qualify, having never really lost my amateur status. His very-elaborate guitar outro was fun to watch. 

Al then talked about hearing some famous pianist or other doing a little melody-riff, and asking him if he could write a song to it. After describing a few abortive attempts, this became Year of the Cat, with the elaborate Hall of the Mountain King outro. 

We stood up and screamed and threw babies in the air, and Al came back out for his encore. I haven’t been following set-lists; last time I saw him he played a Dylan song, this time it was a song called Arnold Lane about a guy who steals lacy underwear off clotheslines, apparently Pink Floyd’s first single. How many covers does he do in this slot in his sets? He then took us out with Carol. 

It was a good set. We were close enough to see his set-list, and Helen and Cassandra was on it, which made Morgen and I ooh and ahh because it’s one of our favorites, so our disappointment was acute to miss it. We would’ve been fine if we hadn’t seen it on the set-list of course, validating my belief that expectation management is an important life-skill. 

I took my shell-shocked and shrimp-shocked women home; didn’t stay to watch Carol give Al his birthday card from all of us. 

Regards to all of you out there in Al-land, and thanks again to Carol for the logistics and the company, 


* Maybe a relative. 

** The first, second, and third being Nancy, Morgen, and Carol, of course. I am not an idiot.