Tuesday, August 19, 2008

But it don't look like rain

Last Friday night I had one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my lifetime - quite a statement if I do say so myself. I have the good fortune to have seen many, many live performances over the past forty or so years and it is always the unexpected ones that seem to rise above the rest. Jimmy Webb's show at Heckscher Park in Huntington was one of those shows.

I have always loved his songs, even before I knew he had written them. I have a lot of catching up to do in regards to his own recordings and recent works and I plan to do so over the next few months. I did see him perform once before at the Brian Wilson tribute at Radio City Music Hall where he sang Brian's songs as only a songwriter can sing them - making the lyrics come alive in a way that I had never realized before.

It was a rainy, rainy night. Lizz laughed at the thought of me going down to the park at all, but this was the one show that I wanted to catch. I had called my good friend Tom Pfeifer, who was into going despite the miserable weather forecast. As he so correctly pointed out at least we could get a cup of coffee and spend some time catching up. For a brief - very brief - moment the sky seemed to clear and I have visions of a nice night under the stars listening to the man sing his songs. That was until the weather bulletins began to crawl across the TV screen warning me - yes, me - to stay inside, take cover and prepare for the worst. You would think that two grown men would have the know it all to accept these messages, but Starbucks was right around the corner and as Tom said, we were going to turn water into wine anyway. Off we went.

As we drove into town, the rain still coming down hard, we noticed that the steel gate in front of the Chapin Stage was shut. Not a very good sign as it was just about showtime. I noticed some sort of activity around the stage so we decided to park the car and head over there. Once before I had went to a show in foul weather - The Five Chinese Brothers - who rearranged their gear on the stage and invited us all to sit on the stage itself. Turns out that is exactly what Jimmy Webb had decided to do.

With less than 100 people there, the staff had arranged seats around the Steinway grand piano in a very nice fashion, turning the stage into a cabaret-like atmosphere. Tom and I found ourselves sitting right next to Mr. Webb - the photo above is from my phone. We were pretty giddy over the whole thing, which had gone from at best standing in the rain for an hour or so to being part of what was sure to be a very special night.

Turns out it was Jimmy Webb's birthday, but he was giving the presents. For the next hour and a half he told the most wonderful stories, each one accompanied by one of his wonderful songs. No doubt he was relaxed in this intimate atmosphere and I have to imagine that the stories may have had a little more information or were told in a bit more detail than if he was performing before the larger crowd that would have certainly been there under better conditions. The sound was awesome and the lighting really effective, my hats off to the crew down at the Park for making this happen.

The stories were amazing. I would give anything to hang out with this guy for a few hours. Drinking with Harry Nilson, driving to Belfast with Richard Harris, writing a song for a girl who broke his heart - I can only imagine the tales he could tell. If hasn't done so already, I hope he writes a book. The songs - well the songs are perfect. His voice is not strong, he readily admits that, though it certainly doesn't "stink" as Harry Nilson described it one of his stories. To hear him sing these songs, which I have embedded in my brain in the voices of Glen Cambell, Frank Sinatra, Art Garfunkel and countless others, you began to make the connection between them. His piano playing is quite orchestral, shimmering riffs and startling rumbles - the instrumental vamp in Macarthur's park just flat out rocked.

I saw that he has a live CD out right now that features some of these songs and stories. I can pretty much say that it would be worth checking out. If it was anything like what we experienced the other night it will be time well spent.

No comments: