By Mark Guarino
Jimmy Buffett built his franchise upon selling his fans a cartoonish portrait of Gulf Coast bacchanalia — where life consists of nothing but drinking before noon, chilling on the beach and driving nowhere in particular with the ragtop permanently down.
Last week’s reality check set that straight when the world witnessed bodies of dead Americans floating in the water and baking in the sun, homes destroyed by violent winds and the federal government ensnared in hesitation and red tape. At Wrigley Field Sunday, where Buffett played the first of two shows, the continuing tragedy down South couldn’t help but make his rosy version of a beachcomber’s life feel cheap and even prehistoric. If anything else, the events of this past historic week proves that Americans need less fantasy and more reality, especially regarding the poorest part of its country. If escapism is a narcotic, we are a country of addicts. It’s just that lately, maybe it’s time to scale back just an inch.
Indeed, in Wrigleyville Sunday, it was a return to the business-as-usual revelry of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Men wore grass skirts and coconut bras, women toted inflatable sharks, everyone wore hats in the shape of either parrots or cheeseburgers and even Harry Carey’s statue was draped with a lei.
The Buffett shows are part of a new business venture between Elevated Concerts, the retitled concert division of Clear Channel Entertainment, and the Tribune Company. With some 78,000 tickets sold, ranging between $90 and $130, it is assured that Buffett’s inaugural show will not be the last at the Friendly Confines, especially considering the concert industry’s current shift away from sheds like Tweeter Center and towards less intrusive venues like ballparks.
While hearing music at Wrigley was a novelty, there was one problem: you couldn’t really hear it well. A poor sound mix drained Buffett’s 13-member band of its dynamics and, from the grandstand, his vocals sounded mostly indistinguishable and mushy.
Buffett played on a stage set into the bleachers, facing the outfield. The top tier seats were on the outfield. A security team protected the infield from intrusion
Aside from Buffett’s T-shirt that read “New Orleans,” there was little mention of the city where he runs a club and borrows from its culture. His 27-song set was accompanied by video promoting both his restaurant in the Western Suburbs and brand of tequila plus showed images of him clowning around Chicago and embarking on adventures atop mountains, on the sea and in the air.
Fans cheered his sentiments (“god almighty, look where we are!”), which, as the night wore on, became more entertaining than his actual songs, which are motored chiefly by their puns. It was no accident that his covers by Van Morrison, Stephen Stills and the Grateful Dead, became the chief highlights.
Buffet did end his show in the bleachers accompanied by only a guitarist. He connected Chicago to New Orleans by covering “City of New Orleans” by the late local songwriter Steve Goodman. Ending the show on a quiet note, he sang the lyric’s question (“don’t you know me, I’m your native son?”) that people south of us were asking all week.