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Music Review

Smooth sailing for Jimmy Buffett at Fenway

Beach balls were flying as Jimmy Buffett performed at Fenway Park. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

You may have seen the recent footage of the great white shark lunging out of the water off the coast of Wellfleet, at the foot of a researcher. Or the shot from a couple weeks ago where a shark took a seal, right near a group of surfers off Nauset Beach. Yes, it’s high shark season around these parts.

At Fenway Park on Thursday, the headline performer noted that the tracking doesn’t stop at water’s edge. “This is a great place to study the land shark population,” Jimmy Buffett said as he surveyed the crowd.

That, of course, cued the floral-printed Buffett faithful to the next song, his band’s 19th or so of the night. It was “Fins,” the one where fans form a triangle with hands above their heads, then follow the instructions: “Fins to the left, fins to the right.”


Buffett, still grinning at 71, has built an empire out of his lifelong fixation on marine life — the boats, the islands, the pirates, the boat drinks. The Fenway Park show was his last of the year, he said: “Who knows what could happen?” In fact, the “Son of a Son of a Sailor” tour-closer featured all the usual menu items — margaritas, cheeseburgers, plenty of corn.

Buffett sang “Come Monday,” his lovely, uncharacteristically somber early tune, his first Top 40 hit, with help from Caroline Jones, a young songwriter in Daisy Dukes and a Red Sox jersey. She had opened the show with a brief set that featured a nice tribute to Joni Mitchell.

Peter Wolf and his Midnight Travelers played the middle set, setting the table for Buffett with a mix of Wolf’s wistful recent solo material and a healthy helping of J. Geils Band classics. They wrapped up their 40 minutes just in time for the darkness to descend on Wolf’s dazzling black dinner jacket, which he threw off during a rousing four-song finale: “Musta Got Lost,” “Love Stinks,” “Looking for a Love,” and “House Party.”


On a warm summer night, Buffett took the stage in the most tasteful Hawaiian shirt in the house, white shorts, and bare feet. After opening with “Livingston Saturday Night,” an older song that spent years in mothballs, Buffett and his 11-piece band revisited their customary cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” In the first of several references to Fenway’s home team, the singer changed the opening line about the “days when the rains came” to “days when there was no game.”

In his wilder days, Buffett spent a good bit of time around Boston, and he shouted out Bruins great Derek Sanderson for his role on the night Buffett was inspired to write “Boat Drinks.” Later, Buffett mentioned WBCN’s Charles Laquidara as an early supporter and recalled nights at Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop, as well as the Chicken Box on Nantucket.

The high-tech backdrop display was a kinetic marvel. During “Boat Drinks” the band was dwarfed by gorgeous, hyper-realistic footage of a remote lagoon at sunset. The band took the stage to an enlarged blueprint of a sailboat; throughout the course of the night, there were old home movies of Buffett goofing on various watercraft.

Onstage, members of the band took turns spelling the captain at the wheel. Longtime associate Mac McAnally took the Alan Jackson part on “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and the lead vocal on his own “Back Where I Come From.” Steel drummer Robert Greenidge and guitarist Peter Mayer gave the other musicians a break during their atmospheric version of “Eleanor Rigby.”


When the band returned, they crowded to one side of the stage for an acoustic medley (“Grapefruit — Juicy Fruit,” “Manana”), which Buffett called “Bluegrassville.” It was less bluegrass than, say, jug band, but who cared?

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane,” Buffett sang, as true as ever, during “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” the closing song of the regular set. A couple more crowd-pleasers were in store with the band’s encore versions of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Southern Cross” and Bob Marley’s “One Love,” sandwiched around Buffett’s own “Love and Luck.”

“Things will get better,” he promised, with a little of those last two things. For now, Jimmy Buffett is going — where else? — on vacation.


With Caroline Jones, Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers

At Fenway Park, Aug. 9

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.