Don McLean July 23, 2011
Don McLean at Cerritos as American as American Pie
By Glen Creason
One of the most inspired YouTube videos in memory is the truly fantastic civic pride exhibition by Grand Rapids, Michigan. An entire town is choreographed while lip sinking the anthem “American Pie” as they showcase a city dissed by Newsweek magazine. You won’t find an example of American strength more emblematic and full of spirit than this one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPjjZCO67WI It is no surprise that the town used this long and textured song to exhibit what is great about America because it has become one of the most beloved tunes of all time despite getting played on top-40 radio a zillion times. Now, there is hearing it on the radio with its familiar refrain and then there is the live version which was heard at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night where the entire full house is singing along in full-voice chorus after heart-warming chorus. Certainly a visit by Don McLean, a dean of songwriting and a singer of great renown is fortunate for us in these parts since he has made enough money to retire and sit up by the radio towers that broadcast his classic each day.
Yet, McLean is an entertainer to the bone and he doesn’t like to rest on his laurels so there he was in the old hometown offering up way more than just American Pie while steaming full speed through over twenty of his repertoire. It is an impressive treasure chest of songs including the gems “Vincent,” “Winterwood,” “Castles in the Air” and “And I Love Her So” that will certainly stand the test of time. He also mixed in marvelous material from his many albums that kept the pulse thumping including a Buddy Holly medley (“Well Alright,” “Wishin’,” and “Peggy Sue Got Married”) along with Roy Orbison’s magnificent “Cryin” that stirred the gray cells of the mostly Boomer crowd. McLean also chose some fine songs that may not have charted, especially the poignant “Homeless Brother,” and “Jay Gould’s Daughter” that had a contemporary message that hit home. There was also 21st century stuff many had not heard like “Run Diana Run” about media obsession with celebrities and the light hearted “Fashion Victim” that varied the flow of serious songs.
In case one might forget that this man is a fine musician he played the heck out of the old Reverend Gary Davis’ “I’ve Got the Keys to the Kingdom” and rocked it country and western style on “Living on Tulsa Time.” While the man is not close to the singer who caressed these ballads forty years ago, I can’t run to first base too fast anymore either. The band that backs Don McLean is understated but excellent, especially Vip Vipperson on lead guitar and Tony Migliore on the 88’s. The evening was also a family affair when son Wyatt came out to sing a couple of folk tunes while demonstrating the best voice heard all evening with a beguiling shyness that just added to the concert’s charm. In the end, however, it was the anthem “American Pie” sung by the giddy audience that made the evening memorable. Just like Grand Rapids, Cerritos sounds pretty good singing in harmony.