Review: Jimmy Buffett thrills Minnesota fans

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2013 - 10:42 AM

We all want to belong, don’t we?

As kids, we watched “The Mickey Mouse Club” and envisioned ourselves as members. As tweens, we signed up for Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. As adults, we joined a book club if we had smart friends or Minnesota Public Radio if we wanted to hang with indie-rock hipsters or a country club if we were wealthy and well-connected.

Well, anybody can enroll in the Parrotheads, the club that worships Jimmy Buffett. No uniforms are required, but Hawaiian shirts, leis and parrot headgear are commonplace. So are tequila, beer and goofy grins you get from smoking funny cigarettes.

The Upper Midwest chapter of the Parrotheads held their first Twin Cities meeting in nine years on Tuesday when they gathered 14,000 strong at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center. One Parrothead so impressively wore a parrot outfit worthy of a college mascot that he was posing for photos with St. Paul police officers in the arena lobby. The guy behind me was a vision of a Parrothead in Winter: polka-dot swim trunks over his jeans, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt over his turtleneck and, of course, a weathered straw hat.

Buffett sported his usual outfit — bare feet, Bermuda shorts, T-shirt (in this case a throwback Minnesota Fighting Saints hockey T) and, of course, that perpetual stoner smile. Balding with a silver mullet, he came across as his usual if aging self — part musician, part snake oil salesman and part guru. For much of the 130-minute performance, he emphasized the latter two.

He apologized for not having performed in the Twin Cities for a time (2004 was his last gig here), promised not to make Parrotheads wait another decade and showered them with endless Minnesota references. He talked about walleye, the Mississippi’s headwaters and hockey. On giant video screens behind him, he displayed photos of downtown St. Paul, the St. Anthony Falls and Minnesota heroes (Fran Tarkenton, Adrian Peterson and the Lynx). And he closed with two Bob Dylan songs — “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Girl from the North Country” — while wearing a custom-made Wild jersey partly made out of floral Hawaiian material. Does it get any more Minnesotan?

Well, he did trot out his longtime Minneapolis-bred, Emmy-winning wardrobe mistress Helen Hiatt and explained that she once designed Prince’s pants with the missing butt cheek panels. And he did sing about a “Minnesota cutie” in “Margaritaville.” Enough with the snake oil guy who could probably sell stock in cheeseburger restaurants to vegans.

How was the music? Well, early on, Buffett’s voice was as plain as the rolls at Old Country Buffett to the extent that his blandness masked the musicality of his talented Coral Reefer Band, which featured the unusual combination of steel drums, pedal steel guitar, trumpet, mandolin and melodica.

The momentum began to change when Buffett pumped up the volume and comedy on “Too Drunk To Karaoke,” his current single featuring rowdy country star Toby Keith. Mac McAnally provided Keith’s vocal parts as well as hot guitar licks as this country-rock novelty number added some much-needed liveliness to the heretofore blissed-out-on-the-beach program.

Buffett found his vocal focus on a three-song, sit-down acoustic set. “Piece of Work” was front-porch country-gospel with a Bo Diddley beat. “Volcano” erupted with six-part vocal harmony. And their version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Southern Cross” was smokin’ — more impressive than CSN could manage these days.

Buffett kept his focus and spirit for the rest of the night, even if the show unexpectedly turned into a bit of karaoke with Florida’s most famous beach boy doing hits by Lionel Richie, Zac Brown, Dylan and even Kenny Chesney, who has famously and lucratively co-opted Buffett’s beach aesthetic. That made one think that next Buffett should write a prequel to the Keith duet and call it “Let’s Just Get Drunk and Karaoke.” Hey, when you’re born on Christmas Day (Buffett turns 67 on Dec. 25), you can make your own party rules.

At least, in the home stretch, Buffett thrilled the fans with such favorites as “One Particular Harbour” with its lilting island groove, the always festive “Margaritaville’ and “Fins,” the fun party song complete with its fin-evoking hand motions that are like the secret handshake at a Parrotheads club meeting.


For set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719

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