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).
More Buffett and baseball:
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.
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.
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”
- “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”
- “Last Man Standing”
- “City of New Orleans”
- “Glory Days”