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ISBS Concert Review: Jimmy Buffett at Madison Square Garden

By Brian | September 21, 2007 | Share on Facebook

When I was seventeen, a friend and I went to Florida to hang out at beaches and stare at girls. At one point, we found ourselves in a small beachside bar in Tampa, where we set ourselves up for a few hours with a nice view, some food and drink and a lot of sun. I remember that particular bar because there was a guy there in a Hawaiian shirt with a guitar, a stool, and a microphone. The first thing we heard him say was, “How ’bout a little Jimmy Buffett?” Then he played a Jimmy Buffett tune. Then he said, “How ’bout a little Jimmy Buffett?” and played another Buffett tune. Then he did it again. And again. And again. And…well, you get the idea.

Tonight, twenty years later, I had myself a Cheeseburger in Paradise (actually at the Hard Rock Cafe, but let’s not pick nits) and set myself up in a seat in Madison Square Garden to listen to “a little Jimmy Buffett.”

What a fun show. It’s important to focus on how much fun it was, because focusing on anything else can get a little depressing.

So let’s focus on the fun, shall we? Buffett came on stage barefoot, riding a bicycle, and wearing a turquoise t-shirt and yellow shorts. His attitude was as relaxed as his attire. He did not stop smiling the entire show, chatted with the audience between songs (and sometimes even during songs), occasionally stepped away from the microphone to kick a beach ball or two back into the audience, and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the evening. There were no teleprompters for lyrics or between-song banter as I’ve seen in other shows. This is a man who’s doing something he loves, and revels in that fact at all times. At one point, when the entire Coral Reefer Band had left the stage, leaving him alone with his guitar to serenade us with Boat Drinks, he commented that he was standing alone, center stage at Madison Square Garden. He said, “It took me a long time to get here, and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.” Nothing sums up the general tone & feeling of the show more than that single statement.

He played many of the Jimmy Buffett tunes you’d expect – Cheeseburger in Paradise,
Boat Drinks, Come Monday, Changes in Latitudes, Volcano Rock, Margaritaville, and others. Unlike the guy at the beach bar in Tampa, though, he also played a few songs by other artists, including Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again, Van Morrison’s
Brown-Eyed Girl, and Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days (a version which proved, incidentally, that The Boss’ music should never, ever be played in Buffett’s signature beach-party style). The entire set list is here.

The Coral Reefer band was outstanding, especially his two guests – Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and Billy Payne (founder of Little Feat), who did a tribute to New York on the keyboard, mashing together songs by various well known New York artists, culminating in a rousing version of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken.

Throughout the show, the giant monitors on the sides of the stage alternated nicely between shots of Buffett and the band on stage, and what was basically Jimmy’s home movies – shots of him sailing, surfing, and partying with his fans, including the occasional Parrothead flashing her breasts to the camera. Like I said before, what a fun show…

Here’s the thing, though: Jimmy Buffett is sixty years old. And (there’s really no nice way of saying this) he can’t really sing anymore. For many of the songs, especially the slower ones, he half sang, half spoke the lyrics, particularly at the end of a sentence where he was obviously running out of breath, or where the melody called for a note that was uncomfortably high for him.

It was a shame, but to be honest, it really didn’t matter. Because the fact is this: Jimmy Buffett, standing on stage at Madison Square Garden, half-singing Margaritaville while 16,000 fans sing it back at him at the top of their lungs makes for a pretty awesome sound on its own. It’s as if his presence and his voice are close enough to the original to allow people to hear it in their heads, and that’s really all they need. Well, that and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt, preferably one with a parrot on it.

Topics: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “ISBS Concert Review: Jimmy Buffett at Madison Square Garden”

  1. jason says at September 25th, 2007 at 2:04 pm :
    I went through a serious parrothead phase in my mid-20s, and have seen Mr. Buffett live on two occasions. He definitely puts on a good concert, like a big party with 40,000 of your best friends.

    For my money, there are actually two Jimmy Buffetts. One of them is the guy you see at those shows, the business-savvy investor and commercialized owner of the restaurant chain (I think of this Jimmy as “Mr. Margaritaville”). He’s not a bad guy, but you sometimes get the feeling he hasn’t got a lot of heart, or at least his heart’s not in what he’s doing these days. He keeps hosting these parties out of a sense of obligation, because everyone else has such a good time with them and he doesn’t want to let them down.

    I prefer the original Jimmy Buffett, myself, the one who did the wistful ballads about colorful characters, lovable losers, drifters and damage cases. The one who wrote “The Captain and the Kid” and “He Went to Paris.” He still shows up at the concerts once in a while, but he’s not too flashy, and you often can’t see him through the see of hands making the “Fins” gesture.

    Oh, and you’re probably right about Jimmy not being able to hit the high notes anymore, but he’s always done the “half-sing/half-talk” thing. There’s an interminably long song on one of his early albums called “God’s Own Drunk” that is pretty much all spoken.

    In any event, glad you had a good time.

  2. Brian says at September 25th, 2007 at 3:05 pm :

    I think you’ve nailed it pretty well. It’s obvious watching him that he knows he’s a franchise and he’s “giving the people what they want.”

    On the other hand, I didn’t perceive a sense of obligation there. Instead, I saw an old(er) guy who was just SO HAPPY to be reliving his youth that he isn’t all that concerned with things like pitch and tonal quality. I mean, seriously, how many sixty year-old men are going to cause college co-eds to lift up their shirt for the whole world to see?

    As for the crowd, many of them old(er) as well, they match the profile exactly. No where else on the planet can someone’s grandmother wear a Hawaiian shirt, a lei, and a headband with a parrot and a miniature bottle of tequilla glued to it and not look like an escaped asylum patient. These folks, like Jimmy, coudln’t care less about how he sings. They’re watching him on stage, but in their heads, they’re hearing the 33 1/3 rpm album they used to play back in college…

    It’s the perfect mutual admiration society. And everyone’s having so much fun, it’s impossible not to smile and sing along…

  3. jason says at September 25th, 2007 at 4:55 pm :
    “And everyone’s having so much fun, it’s impossible not to smile and sing along…”

    I hear that. It’s pretty hard for even me to be cynical in the middle of one of these shows. It isn’t until later when I start thinking about things… I really need to stop that. :)


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