May 12, 2009 / 7:11 AM / 10 years ago

Yusuf Islam plays first LA show in 33 years

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With a wry nod to his problems with American immigration authorities, British folk singer Yusuf Islam performed his second U.S. concert in 33 years on Monday, treating 400 fans to classics from his youthful days when he was known as Cat Stevens.

Singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, performs a sound check ahead of his concert at El Rey theatre in Los Angeles May 11, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The 60-year-old musician treated the invitation-only crowd to an hourlong set that included such hits as “Peace Train,” “Wild World” and “Where Do the Children Play?” as well as a selection of tunes from his new album, “Roadsinger.”

Looking professorial with his full gray beard, checkered shirt and sleeveless jacket, the bespectacled singer sprinkled his performance with lighthearted banter.

“I bet you thought we’d never make it,” he said at the outset, later explaining that he was referring to his 2004 deportation from the United States after his name appeared on a “no-fly” watch list designed to weed out suspected terrorists.

Islam, who became a Muslim in 1977 and abandoned his pop star life, ran afoul of authorities who alleged he supports charities that ultimately funnel money to terrorist groups.

Islam denied the allegations and has frequently spoken out against terrorism. He has since returned to the United States on several occasions.

But he encountered bureaucratic difficulties on his current visit. An unspecified work-visa issue forced him to cancel a planned May 3 show in New York, where he played a similar promotional show in 2006. This left Los Angeles as his sole American date.

He has said he plans to perform a handful of shows around the world to promote “Roadsinger,” only his second mainstream pop release in three decades. But no dates have been announced beyond the American pair. It was not known if the New York show would be rescheduled.

Islam last toured the United States in early 1976, by which time he was becoming disenchanted with his pop career amid declining sales. After a London show in 1979, he focused solely on his family and faith.

He made a tentative return to the pop world in 2006 with the album “An Other Cup,” and promoted it with an intimate London show that was filmed for a DVD.

Monday’s show at the El Rey Theater, which was organized by the record label, was also filmed. Accompanied by a four-man band, Islam sang and played his acoustic guitar. A number of celebrities attended the show, including Irish actor Colin Farrell and singers Josh Groban, Chris Isaak, and Michelle Branch.

Many songs were greeted with standing ovations. During the two-song encore, they cheered the line “Look at me, I am old but I’m happy” from “Father and Son,” and clapped along to “Peace Train.”

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