Move over, Bruce Springsteen. Jimmy Buffett is at Fenway Park this weekend - and he’s not taking a back seat to anyone. Springsteen may have launched a new era of rock at the ballpark last year, but Buffett performed last night as if he’s not content to finish second in anything.
Buffett was so excited that he could barely contain himself. “This is kind of overwhelming. I’m having a big time up here already,” he said five minutes into an all-out, two-set show that was a masterful blend of structure and pace, as well as visuals, with colorfully-costumed dancers and a rear scrim of a sunset and palm trees.
Buffett offered his beloved, hedonistic tales of the tropics to a sold-out crowd of 35,000 fans, but he also paused tenderly at the end to sing Jesse Winchester’s lament, “Defying Gravity,” dedicated to Buffett’s fans who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. This came during an encore that also featured the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias,” an obvious nod to Jerry Garcia (and what an incredible job Buffett’s steel pan player, Robert Greenidge, did to simulate Garcia’s treble-rich guitar tone).
Buffett opened with a surprise solo version of his hit “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” just one of many surprises. The biggest shock was a three-song package of Prince’s “Purple Rain” into Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” into Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a frequently-played song during late innings of Red Sox games.
The fans exploded in joy, then Buffett laced them with his recent country cover of Hank Williams’s “Hey Good Lookin.’ “ The party was on. And this was in a first set that included diehard Parrothead favorites “Pencil Thin Mustache,” “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” and “Boat Drinks,” which he wrote in Boston after leaving former Bruin Derek Sanderson’s Park Square club and grimly dealing with 20-degree weather.
Buffett sprinkled many Boston references into the show, even changing the lyrics of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” to “making love on the green grass right along the Green Monster.” (And as the Red Sox did for Springsteen last year, they put up the letters JIMMY BUFFETT on the Green Monster’s scoreboard.)
The first set was the best last night - buttressed by newly added slide guitarist Sonny Landreth (who didn’t do an opening solo set as anticipated) and Little Feat pianist Bill Payne. They helped build the band up to 16 pieces (including backup singers and horns) that was more than enough to fill up Fenway.
The second set had the hits “Come Monday” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” but also had his singers, the Coral Reeferettes, wailing through Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Buffett igniting the faithful with “Fins” and “Southern Cross,” as well as a brief skit with a costumed fellow named Jolly Mon that was meant to lift the Fenway curse. If anyone can do it at this point, maybe it’s Buffett. As he proved again last night, he’s not playing for second place.