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Concert review: Jimmy Buffett at Wrigley Field — It’s 2:00 somewhere

Billboard — Almost a year to the day after exorcising the Curse of the Bambino at Boston’s Fenway Park — which he did a pretty decent job of — Jimmy Buffett was forced to take the centerfield stage at Wrigley Field with no such hope for drastic, fundamental karmic re-jiggering. True to the cosmic rules that govern such things, the Cubs have been effectively out of the NL Central pennant race since sometime in mid-June.

But even if he couldn’t unravel any baseball spells on this Labor Day weekend show, Buffett could close out the summer at the only place in the game that’s at once holier and less blessed, ending his annual summer tour with a sold-out Sunday night-Monday afternoon doubleheader on a pitch-perfect North Side afternoon. (That’s right, afternoon. As part of Buffett’s deal with the city, the Monday show went off at 2 p.m., marking what I imagine is the first time ever that “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” was performed 45 minutes early).

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More Buffett and baseball:

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Harry Caray would have argued it was a beautiful day for baseball, or a concert, or anything, really. The Lake Michigan breeze blew from right field to left, judging by the trajectory of the beach balls and various inflatable sharks. Pirate flags flew under the ones immortalizing Banks, Santo, Sandberg and Billy Williams. And for all the worry and negotiations between the city, the neighborhoods and the band, Monday afternoon was a relatively calm one — which is really no surprise, since when you stop to think about it, people drinking throughout a Wrigleyville afternoon does not a novelty make.

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To a certain degree, it was only a matter of time before Buffett came to Wrigley Field (he said the idea was first hatched about seven years ago, appropriately enough, in a bar). A longtime Cubs fan, Buffett filled in on national anthem duties in 1984 for Game 1 of the National League pennant series after longtime pal and Chicago native Steve Goodman died before the playoffs (the singer/songwriter was referenced three times on Monday, counting the intermission playback of the always-tragic “Go Cubs Go.”) And the parallels between Cub fandom and Buffett lawn activities are probably too numerous to get into here, but they start, and probably end, with beer.

Still, the occasion was dampened, as most occasions are, by the clouds of Hurricane Katrina and her contentious aftermath. Buffett being Buffett, he had to straddle the thin white-chalk line of remaining Capt. Margaritaville — he got to play Wrigley Field, he joked, so it’ll be a snap to rebuild the city — while staying vigilant of the tragedy. To that end, he signed a pinstriped Cubs jersey that he said would be auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Red Cross, and he kicked off his second encore with the newly poignant Goodman chestnut “City of New Orleans,” which he dedicated, pointedly, to the “fellow Americans” devastated by the tragedy.

But more than not, Buffett the yellow-clad showman was in full force, even as the sun beat down on the center field stage throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show.

In fact, there was a little more of a rock edge to the set. Opener “Piece of Work” uncoiled over a great Bo Diddley beat; it’s the rocking-est thing Buffett’s laid to tape in decades. “Last Man Standing” rose and fell from quiet, picking verses into an explosive chorus, amplified by Mac McAnally and Peter Mayer’s guitar work. And the unfathomably goofy “License To Chill” somehow worked on stage, probably because lines like “Let the world go to hell, I think I’m going back to Brazil” sound much better when fueled by frosty goodness.

To mark the various occasions, Buffett and his band un-tarped a few dusties: Hagar-the-Horrible bearded guitarist McAnally’s “In the City,” the New Orleans shout-out “I Will Play for Gumbo,” the over-30 Key West tale “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” and the wistful Goodman ballad “Banana Republics,” one of the most genuinely melodic songs in the Buffett catalog. Some new stuff too: Never one to shy away from the thematically appropriate cover song, Buffett closed down the summer of 2005 with a shamelessly ragged shot at Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” which had to survive on goodwill alone, and almost did.

Buffett said that he’s been in the business for 40 years, but couldn’t remember it being much better than this. The sunsplashed crowd, at least, on a perfect summer day probably agreed. Next time, let’s play two.

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Here is Jimmy Buffett’s set list:

  • “Piece of Work”
  • “The Pascagoula Run”
  • “Hey Good Lookin'”
  • “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
  • “I Will Play for Gumbo”
  • “Come Monday”
  • “Last Mango in Paris”
  • “Woman Going Crazy on Caroline Street”
  • “License To Chill”
  • “Son of a Son of a Sailor”
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
  • “Volcano”
  • “Brown Eyed Girl”
  • “Why Don’t We Get Drunk”
  • “La Vie Dansante”
  • “Banana Republics”
  • “Southern Cross”
  • “School Boy Heart”
  • “A Pirate Looks at 40”
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
  • “In the City”
  • “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere”
  • “One Particular Harbour”
  • “Margaritaville”
  • “Fins”
  • “Last Man Standing”
  • “City of New Orleans”
  • “Glory Days”

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Concert review: Jimmy Buffett at Fenway Park, or, Fins at the Fens

Billboard — “Fenway Park on Friday night. Who’d have ever thought it?” Having logged 30-some odd years in the music business, and presiding one of the most reliable draws to come down the road every summer, it’s tough for Jimmy Buffett to pull out many surprises these days.

But for the 2004 edition of his annual festival of shameless escapism, calypso/country and nice cold beverages, Buffett pulled out two doozies. One was his first-ever No. 1 record, “License To Chill,” a set of mostly country duets that surfed the momentum from his Alan Jackson duet “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to become strongest studio album in years.

The second might have been more wicked: a two-night closing stand at Boston’s Fenway Park. And judging by his Sept. 10 show on those hallowed, cursed grounds, the latter may yet go down as the more memorable of the two. The Red Sox even re-jiggered the Green Monster’s hand-operated scoreboard to read JIMMY BUFFETT, much to the delight of everyone who smuggled a camera into the park.

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More Buffett and baseball:

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The coming of Buffett seemed a capitalized Event in a neighborhood that’s seen its share of them, and the king Parrothead only descended on Boston after some degree of bureaucratic hand-wringing. Neighbors and lawmakers were wary of the traditionally lubricated crowd, though a controversial city no-tailgating rule seemed to have little effect on the vibe — where can you tailgate in a neighborhood with no pahking anyway?

It was also a sequel of sorts; Buffett packed the ballpark exactly one year and three days after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band re-christened it as a rock’n’roll destination. But Springsteen was touring behind his paean to 9/11, “The Rising,” which demanded at least a brief pause for reflection in the raucousness. Though their Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 shows bookended the attacks’ third anniversary, Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band — augmented by slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and Little Feat pianist Bill Payne, to bring the starting lineup up to 16 — harbored no delusions of purpose.

They were there to bring “Fins” to Fens, turn the heat and humidity up and rattle the house like it hadn’t been rattled since, well, the Red Sox’s collapse last October. Buffett himself smartly took time to acknowledge that, though he was the party’s host, he was also its de factor scorekeeper. “I just want to let y’all know,” he said upon returning from intermission, “The Yankees are losing 10-5,” and the resulting cheer might have thrown off cell phone reception all the way to Worcester.

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He spun a tale of how a wintertime barroom meeting with Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson inspired the frothy “Boat Drinks,” which he said is the only time he ever let himself write about hockey. And midway through the show, he produced a Caribbean-dressed “Jolly Mon” to officially reverse the curse. To do so, he wielded the lumber himself and hit T-shirts into the crowd, and damned if the 57-year-old didn’t go 4-for-4 (though it should be noted, evidently, that Springsteen’s 2003 attempt at same did not exactly take).

As one might be able to guess, “License To Chill,” despite its platinum status, hasn’t changed Buffett’s template much. The show remains deceptively simple, carefully orchestrated and very difficult not to grin through at least part of. And for two-and-a-half hours and 30 songs, the energized-almost-to-the-point-of-reverence Buffett (“This is kind of overwhelming,” he admitted early on) bounded about the stage, called audibles with his band and spun tales of pirates and tropics and means of escape that are forever just one hastily considered decision away.

“Let the world go to hell / I think I’m going back to Brazil,” he grinned in the album’s title track, illustrating his skill at tricking Sox fans into thinking they’re watching the sun drop in someplace like Fiji.

When he did evacuate the Keys for the more mainland-oriented “License” tracks, Buffett still hit surprisingly well (including new songs is a dicey maneuver when playing for a crowd that never tires of “Cheeseburger in Paradise”). “Coast of Carolina,” co-written with guitarist Mac McAnally, was a gentle breeze; the Will Kimbrough stomper “Piece of Work,” propelled by a driving Bo Diddley beat, was the most rock’n’roll song Buffett’s played in years. In the encores, “Scarlet Begonias” was as snug a fit as his standard but frothy cover of “Southern Cross” — you almost wonder what took so long for him to get to it.

Elsewhere, Buffett and his fine band had no trouble keeping the energy up. “One Particular Harbour” showcased Robert Greenidge’s steel drums; “Son of a Son of a Sailor” did the same with Nadirah Shakoor’s soaring vocals (the powerful singer tore up a brief cover of “Respect” as well). And Buffett used an opening mini-acoustic set to dust off “The Great Filling Station Hold-Up,” from his pre-“Fins” days of pickup trucks, honky-tonks and petty crime.

For those there to sing along loudly and badly, Buffett bookended “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” with slivers of “Purple Rain” and “Sweet Caroline,” probably the first time in recorded human history those three titles have ever appeared in a sentence together.

But in closing the show, Buffett dedicated Jesse Winchester’s pretty, breezy “Defying Gravity” to 9/11 victims, and in doing so, pulled off a surprisingly effective simplification of things. For four minutes, released from the cheeseburgers and the beach balls and the SUVs with papier-mache fins strapped atop them, Buffett was back in his early days — a guy with an easy smile and breezy demeanor, with several of his most recent ambitions met and the maddeningly enviable ability to do next whatever he pleases.
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Here is Jimmy Buffett’s set list:

  • “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” (acoustic)
  • “The Great Filling Station Holdup” (acoustic)
  • “Pencil Thin Mustache”
  • “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”
  • “License To Chill”
  • “Son of a Son of a Sailor”
  • “Boat Drinks”
  • “Brown Eyed Girl”
  • “Volcano”
  • “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” / “Purple Rain” / “Sweet Caroline”
  • “Hey Good Lookin’ “
  • “The Pascagoula Run”
  • “One Particular Harbour”
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
  • “Respect” (Nadirah Shakoor vocals)
  • “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”
  • “Jamaica Mistaica”
  • “Come Monday”
  • “Jolly Mon”
  • “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
  • “Coast of Carolina”
  • “Cuban Crime of Passion”
  • “A Pirate Looks at Forty”
  • “Piece of Work”
  • “Margaritaville”
  • “Fins”
  • “Scarlet Begonias”
  • “Southern Cross”
  • “Defying Gravity”

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