Don McLean 3-30-2005
Another Don McLean at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
There were actually two Don McLeans at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening. One was the legend of “the American Pie guy” and his silken baritone used in crooning classic American pop songs of the 70’s. The other is a wise, musicologist lugging a huge mixed bag of styles and songs from across many a genre. As a songwriter McLean breathes the rarified air of a mountaintop of American iconography few have ever scaled. As a musicologist he is amazingly erudite and skilled at styles as disparate as country blues and Tin Pan Alley pop. We must face the fact that McLean no longer can hold those pristine notes in the higher registers that once made songs like “Winterwood,” “And I Love You So” and “Vincent” so precious. Yet, let us of the boomer generation cast the first stone in that regard. Don McLean gave a pretty fine concert in the big hall and while he did not sound like 1972’s version he did get the job done with style and verve.
He warmed up with a pair of Buddy Holly gems “Maybe Baby” and the lesser known “Fool’s Paradise” with more than able assistance from his excellent guitarist Pat Severs, bass man Ralph Childs and fine pianist Tony Migliore. The show had variety but Sever’s strong guitar solos gave it a decided lean toward rock and roll on this night, especially on songs like “La La Love You,” “Tulsa Time,” “Superman’s Ghost,” and even an amped up “Jerusalem.” Migliore offered the delicate touch needed on sweet ballads, especially the classics like “Winterwood,” “And I Love You So,” “Vincent” and a strong “Crying” that paid real homage to Roy Orbison.
There were nice surprises along with the expected and demanded Don McLean staples. “I Could Write a Book” was refreshing, “Have You Seen Me” was crisply done and a short Josh White Jr. medley including “Where Were You Baby” and “Uncle Sam Says” were really and truly wonderful in their context and execution by the versatile Mr. McLean. Strangely enough however, the emotional highlight of this show was a brand new song, tucked unceremoniously into the tail end of the show. It was not identified but apparently will be on the upcoming CD. The tune, possibly called “Under an Indian Sun” was a deeply affecting song about the loss of his parents which clearly demonstrated that his genius has not dulled over these thirty years in the limelight. Of course the show ended with a rousing and crowd pleasing “American Pie” that Don McLean made tasty with plenty of energy. For a song voted the fifth most popular in the twentieth century which has been played almost as many times as the national anthem the happy crowd sang it not only word for word but note for note.The show was opened by an accomplished songwriter in his own right Stephen Bishop. Despite the absence of his drummer in the quintet Bishop soldiered on and gave the big crowd satisfaction with his harmonious hits from the 80’s with a few added attractions. Stephen Bishop continues to sport a fine voice which reached peaks in his standards like the sweet “It Might Be You,” “Hello” “Save It for a Rainy Day,” a nicely tweaked “On and On” and the powerful “Separate Lives.” Bishop seems to stay within his game and utilize his solid voice which is as comfortable as a corduroy blazer. His set was very well received by the large and enthusiastic crowd.