Written Before the Show
After much debate, I have decided to walk the two and a half miles to see Jimmy Webb put on a concert at the 20th Century Theatre tonight. Jimmy Webb, of course, is something of an American songwriting legend. He’s responsible for a lot of songs you know (even if you don’t know you know) and a few songs that I hold in very high regard. His “If These Walls Could Speak” and “Rosecrans Boulevard” are both on my current list of 100 all-time favorite songs. His much more famous “Galveston” is one of the first songs I remember hearing as a child. I was probably five-years-old. It made me sad.
Here’s the stuff I’ll be bringing with me to the concert:
I might also have to bring an umbrella as it’s supposed to rain tonight.
(I’ll write the “review” down here when I get home. You know…the setlist, marquee shot, tales of annoying audience members, etc. Stop back if you’re interested in such things.)
Written After the Show
Well, it turned cold and rainy, so I ended up driving to the venue. I got there about a half hour before showtime and staked out a table toward the back. I read until Jimmy Webb came out at a little after 7:00. He sat down at his piano and proceeded to play “The Highwayman”, a song about reincarnation that I’d developed an appreciation for only a few hours earlier. The fact that he opened the show with a song I’d been analyzing earlier in the day felt like a sign that I’d made the right choice in buying my ticket.
I learned something about Jimmy Webb after the first song that I hadn’t known before and never would’ve guessed…he’s a talker. He told a story about Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Farm Aid, and the song he’d just played. It was a good story with some humorous bits, but it seemed to go on longer than necessary. It ended up being one of the more concise stories of the night.
I was happy when Jimmy stopped talking and started playing “Galveston”, a song that I mentioned above as being important in my early years as a music fan. He followed that with a lengthy tale about his childhood spent performing in his father’s church and how his mother used to threaten him with a stick if he didn’t practice his piano. This, of course, led to an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace”.
From there, the stories picked up again with a young Jimmy Webb moving out to California and developing his skills as a songwriter for Motown. He played brief snippets of songs that were important to him at the time and talked some about Glen Campbell and Johnny Rivers. Both singers recorded successful versions of one of Jimmy’s most famous songs, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. It took him awhile to get there, but that was the next full song he played.
I zoned out a bit while Jimmy Webb talked about the power of prayer, but came to when he began discussing his work with the 5th Dimension. He played a version of their big hit, “Up, Up and Away”. It’s a goofy song about riding in a hot air balloon, but it’s clear that he’s still proud that it won all those Grammys back in 1968. He followed the song with a funny story about how his father squashed a rumor that the song was about drugs. All it took was a gun and a bible.
The next story was a long, convoluted one about meeting Richard Harris and going over to England to help him with his plans for an album. I think everyone in the theatre thought this story was leading up to “MacArthur Park”, but Jimmy got sidetracked by all the women he met in England and was soon going on about Art Garfunkel, of all people. This eventually led to a performance of Art’s hit, “All I Know”. This was a song I enjoyed as a teenager back when I used to check out Garfunkel from the library every other week, so it was nice to hear it performed live.
The next story was an incredibly sad one about Glen Campbell accidentally singing “Wichita Lineman” two times in a row during a concert in Australia. The story made me uncomfortable, so I was very happy when Jimmy finished it and played the song himself. It was probably his best performance of the night. It definitely overshadowed the song that followed, “Do What You Gotta Do”.
Jimmy then picked up where he’d left off with his Richard Harris story. This time it did, in fact, lead to a performance of “MacArthur Park”. This song takes a lot of heat and often appears on lists of the worst songs ever. All I can say is that Jimmy Webb’s live solo version was quite good. I missed the harpsichord from the original, but Jimmy’s piano playing was impressive. “MacArthur Park” is a pretty good song if you disregard the fact that it was originally recorded by Albus Dumbledore. And there really was a birthday cake left out in the rain. He didn’t make that up.
There was a brief encore break. Jimmy Webb shook some hands and the audience clapped a bunch. I also clapped, but I spent most of the break trying to figure out how he’d only managed to perform nine songs in over an hour and a half. Our Jimmy…he’s a rambler. He sat back down at his piano and closed out the night with an audience request of a song called “Campo de Encino”. It was the only song of the night that I wasn’t familiar with. As such, it wasn’t the ideal ending for me. I’m sure the woman who requested it walked out thrilled, though.
Here’s the setlist:
Main set: The Highwayman / Galveston / Amazing Grace / (My Christmas Tree) / (Poor Side of Town) / By the Time I Get to Phoenix / (Turn Around, Look at Me) / Up, Up and Away / (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing) / All I Know / Wichita Lineman / Do What You Gotta Do / MacArthur Park
Encore: Campo de Encino
The song titles in parentheses were just snippets of a line or two played to emphasize something Jimmy was talking about in between proper songs; they weren’t full, official performances. The four of them added together probably took no more than a minute. So if you’re the Danish dude who likes to cut and paste my setlist notes into that famously inaccurate website, you should definitely leave out the snippets.