Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and legendary singer/songwriter Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), played his first U.S. show in 38 years on Thursday evening at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. The scene at the Tower Theater was a mad house with the line stretching many blocks around the Upper Darby neighborhood. Entrance to the highly anticipated event was ticketless, and the line for admission took about an hour or so to get through. The show itself was easily the most intense and spiritual concert experience of my lifetime. I have nothing to compare it to personally. Each song that Yusuf played ended with a standing ovation that lasted what seemed close to a minute at times. As a ticketless event, scalpers were thwarted almost completely, and the 3,000 capacity crowd was made up of only fans who have waited decades to see Cat Stevens live. Many in the crowd were brought to tears throughout the extended setlist. “What’s a few minutes between friends? But this time, I had to wait for you,” quipped the 66-year old singer, referring to the long wait required upon entry.
The setlist was impeccable, as Yusuf played a generous mix of new material but focused on his classics. The elaborate stage production included an intricate stage design, resembling that of a train station and a sign for the train station labeled “Philadelphia.” Highlights from the set included “Peace Train,” which brought the sold-out crowd to its feet for the duration of the song. Before starting into the track, Yusuf told the audience, “while we’re still waiting for it, let’s get on this train.” The track was beautifully reinvented and realized by his world-class live band, which included two additional guitarists, a bass player, a keyboardist, and a drummer. The singer appeared grateful at the audience’s willingness to sit through some newer songs and a few tremendous covers. Sticking with the theme of the train station, Yusuf’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” was masterful. After playing 26 tracks over two parts of the setlist, “Father and Son,” a personal favorite, served as the closer. Subsequent and deafening applause from an immensely appreciative crowd coaxed the living legend to return to the stage for a two-song encore that included “Sad Lisa” and an astounding performance of “Miles From Nowhere,” both tracks from his 1970 masterstroke “Tea for the Tillerman.” Ultimately, for those lucky few in attendance, it was an experience beyond words.