I had the absolute pleasure a couple of weeks ago to see American singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett's first London gig for just over ten years at prestigious venue the London Palladium for his Son Of A Son Of A Sailor - High Tide tour show.
Admittedly, seeing the definitive 'King Of Somewhere Hot' live has been a lifelong ambition and this gig might well just be something ticked off my own personal bucket list. As is always the case with Buffett gigs, be it live or over a stream, the atmosphere is contagious and what's more, the selection of songs and their ambience doesn't get any better.
Indeed, expectations were high for Buffett's first UK concert in ten years and hell, did he deliver. Opening the set before the main act was long-time collaborator and protege, Jake Shimabukuro, whose skills on a ukulele are unspeakably stellar. The man is by far and away one of the best at what he does, almost like the Brian May of ukuleles. He's that good. A crowd singalong of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody ensued, with plastic drinks glasses raised in the air, along with a few phones too. Shimabukuro really got the ball rolling perfectly, especially with those new Doc Martens he'd bought. Kudos to Jake there.
Soon enough, the rest of the Coral Reefers, along with Jimmy Buffett himself made their way onto the hallowed Palladium stage. A cover of Fred Neil's Everybody's Talkin' opened the show nicely, with a little bit of chat beforehand from Jimmy himself. He's really one of the nicest guys in the music business, as demonstrated over the course of the night. Following that, he treated the crowd to a couple of hits - Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes came first, acting as a great exhibition of the tightly-knit sound of the Coral Reefer Band, as well as the springboard of a long, multi-song crowd singalong. We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About followed, with its great Twist & Shout snippet as always, lightening the mood further.
John Lovell's trumpet work signalled the start of Pencil Thin Mustache, one of Buffett's best-known tracks, as well as one of my favourites . It's the first real high point of the evening, with one of the best collective singalongs from the rafters, as well as one of the band's best performances. Dancing from long-time backing singers Tina Gullickson and the effervescent Nadirah Shakoor must also be praised here!
The proof was very much in the pudding that Buffett's charm and vigour has only improved with age as a rendition of Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit was preceded by a great little story of Buffett getting up to some things during his times at a drive in theatre in Boca Chica, one of the keys just a little way up from Key West in southern Florida. If anything, the song was as good as the story - full of sun-kissed charisma and managing to put smiles on all the faces in the auditorium.
Jamaica Mistaica followed, courtesy of 1994's Banana Wind album (a record that formed part of our Music For Summer playlist that you can find here: https://tinyurl.com/y359ht7v) fusing an autobiographical story with some well-paced reggae. It's a song that tells the story of when Buffett's own seaplane, the Hemisphere Dancer, was shot by Jamaican authorities as they suspected his plane was carrying drugs. Also aboard Buffett's seaplane that day was a certain Bono of U2 and his family. Robert Greenidge's work on steel drums was second-to-none, as was the work on trumpet from John Lovell.
The anthemic It's Five O' Clock Somewhere followed, with some delightful fun had by all, with Mac McAnally, Buffett's 'wing man' playing the part of Alan Jackson brilliantly, as he so often does. Another string of hits ensued, rolling back the years with Son Of A Son Of A Sailor and Buffett telling stories of how his grandfather moved down from St. Johns, Newfoundland to New Orleans to an enraptured response. 1974's classic Come Monday, was then wheeled out for one of the more emotional points of the evening. This indicated a change of pace for this point in the concert. Interestingly, Come Monday was banned by BBC radio following its release due to its mention of Hush Puppies, the shoe manufacturer.
A cover of Crowded House's Weather With You broke up the hits a little, despite being one of Buffett's more frequently played live tunes. It was one of the more bright and airy songs on the setlist, with feelings of happiness reverberating all round the theatre. Volcano soon captalised on this happy feeling, with some great shouting during the "No! No! No!" section of the song helping to keep that atmosphere at a high point. A little bit of chat from Jimmy revealing that he likes fish and chips, as well as how "Every now and then, a cheeseburger comes to mind...” led into a fantastic rendition of Cheeseburger In Paradise, as well as both himself and Michael Utley working out how they could change the lyrics to fit into the British theme, deciding on mentions of chips and HP Sauce to fit instead of fries and Heinz 57.
License To Chill's Trip Around The Sun followed with a duet with backing singer Tina Gullickson, marking the first of a few over the course of the gig. The final song before the interval was Fins, featuring the age-old Buffett concert ritual of both the band and audience putting their hands above their heads in a way like a shark fin pokes out of the water with Buffett instructing them thus: "Fins to the left! Fins to the right! Left! Right! Left! Right!" before the Coral Reefers stormed into Fins itself, along with some inflatable sharks flying through the air in the audience, with some inflatable beach balls too.
Following the interval came a bit more of a slower start, with a song from Buffett's as-yet-untitled new album - a cover of Paul Brady's The World Is What You Make It, featuring a performance from the Irish singer-songwriter himself. Along with this came another Paul Brady cover, entitled The Lakes of Pontchartrain - it sounds like more of an Irish folk song in all honesty and really added something different to the set. These two songs were met with mixed reactions by the die-hard Parrotheads in the audience, as was the cover of the Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias, the first time Buffett had covered this song for nearly two years. I'm a great fan of it to be honest and it was really nice to hear a song where Buffett states that “Parrotheads meet Deadheads”.
Oldest Surfer On The Beach saw a return to songs written by Buffett himself, from 2013's Songs From St. Somewhere. It's a charming little number and one of the best songs on that release. 1985's Jolly Mon Sing would see a return to the lighter moments seen in the first half of the concert with its playful lyrics becoming a basis for a children's fiction book that Buffett would release three years later. It's a much-loved track amongst Parrotheads. Mac McAnally then helped out on vocals with Knee Deep, one of the more commercial tracks from the last decade, having dueted with Zac Brown and doing a sterling job too; since this concert, it's been in my head most days, which is always the sign of a fantastic song!
Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw, coming all the way back from 1973, put a grin on the face of all listeners, with its typical country style, especially given the song's lyrical content. A Pirate Looks At Forty saw a little return to solemnity, discussing someone middle aged, looking back on their life about all the times they've wasted. It's a rather emotional track when done live and Buffett captures that regret perfectly. Mac McAnally was thrust into the spotlight for one of his own songs, Back Where I Come From, that has been adopted by the Coral Reefers for a stellar performance.
As we were nearing the end of the show, it's fair to say that both Buffett and Coral Reefers turned up the wick for the last few songs. The title track from his 1985 album, Last Mango In Paris came first - a real fan favourite, it saw the crowd up and singing their hearts out, myself included. A cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash's Southern Cross came next, with its usual rocking sound and fabulous crowd interaction. One of the best performances of the night no questions asked. The final song before the encore was the one that has made Buffett a household name in both business and the music industry - Margaritaville. It garnered one of the largest reactions from the crowd and one of the loudest singalongs of the night. Top marks there for the crowd!
After much encouragement from the baying crowd and a little bit of a break, Jimmy and the Coral Reefers returned for an encore, with the main man himself taking time to introduce the rest of the tremendous Coral Reefers, from lead guitarist Peter Mayer to Robert Greenidge on steel drums. Fan-favourite One Particular Harbour got us off to a loose and relaxed start, in-keeping with the atmosphere from all throughout the concert.
The last two songs would see the wonderful Paul Brady return for a new song entitled Down At The La Ti Dah, a rather upbeat track that keeps in with Buffett's signature sound and lyrics mentioning beaches and margaritas galore. It's really great to hear new and unreleased songs live and this one proved no different! A lovely little segue would see the band and Jimmy finish with Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl, complete with Paul Brady on-stage to accompany them. As always, the "Sha la la" sections got a brilliant crowd reaction and was met with absolutely rapturous applause and cheering as the song ended and the Coral Reefers went backstage after two and a half hours of pure musical brilliance.
These days, you'll be hard-pushed to find a better and more well-rounded artist than Jimmy Buffett and spending nearly three hours in his presence is a life-changing moment. You come out of the gig feeling refreshed and euphoric; if you ever get the chance to see him live, take the chance and let your hair down for what will be one of the best live acts you'll ever see.