Jimmy Buffett’s First Ever UK gig – July 5 2009 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
40 years in the business, tons of albums under his belt, and a relatively small but highly loyal fan base across Europe. Yet, strangely perhaps, this was the Mississippi/Florida singer songwriter’s first ever UK gig (barring a performance in an all star charity bash a few years back). The legions of self professed “parrot heads” (the name by which his devotees are known) were not disappointed. Shepherd’s Bush Empire – long the redoubt of tribal gatherings – saw a profusion of white middle aged couples in Caribbean fancy dress gathering early for a chance to grab the best view for this unprecedented show.
Mr Buffett’s musical and cultural shtick is a Carribean/Key West Florida gumbo of mid tempo rock with a rootsy undertow, as, I guess, befits a man who started life as a wannabe country singer. Seeing him centre stage dressed in, appropriately enough for his image and for this almost tropical UK heatwave, Bermuda shorts made me think that this was possibly the least cool gig I have ever been to in my life. Much of the gig involved an eight-piece band, and one female backing singer, knocking out foot-tapping numbers bolstered by Jimmy’s often comical lyrical observations, as reflected in such titles as "Cheeseburger in Paradise". Other times there were embarrassing exercises in frat party cool ("Summer School", for example). Every number however elicited ecstatic responses from the Buffett cognoscenti. His performances though were all too often easy on the ear and emotionally unchallenging. In contrast, “Son of a Son of a Sailor”, "One Particular Harbor", and the (sadly only) three acoustic numbers were, for my money, the stand out numbers of this gig. The acoustic songs were a funny (and possibly the only recorded) satirical take on the world financial meltdown, Plenty to Drink About; and two of his most renowned (if that is the right word) tracks: "A Pirate Looks at 40" (revered by Bob Dylan, he wryly noted) and “He Went to Paris”, which closed the show. On these latter two numbers, the quality of Mr Buffett’s vocals and the emotional power that he is capable of summoning up, despite all the schlock of his Carribean island thang, came through strongly. Margarettaville, a signature Buffett tune that perfectly embodies his sailing, sozzled, and soaking up the rays persona, was enjoyable. Ending with “He Went to Paris”, however, meant that the gig closed on a qualitative high note, right after a thoroughly unnecessary sop to the Brits had seen him and his oversized band tackle Yellow Submarine. Buffett seemed bowled over by the response of the audience and promised to come back next summer for his second ever proper British gig. I hope he does, and in the process he should draw deeper on the emotional depths that he plainly has.