Review: Jimmy Buffett at the Waikiki Shell

Dec. 15, 2013 | 1 Comment
Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band perform at the Waikiki Shell on Saturday, Dec. 14. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band perform at the Waikiki Shell on Saturday, Dec. 14. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

REVIEW BY WANDA A. ADAMS / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Let’s face it: One Jimmy Buffett concert is just like every other.

This is praise of the highest order: He makes changes, as he did at a sold-out show at the Waikiki Shell on Saturday night, Dec. 14. But he never disappoints.

And if a crowdful of many/mostly gray-haired fans are willing to don Styrofoam fins on their heads, and parade around the streets in coconut bras and grass skirts and many other bizarre forms of pseudo-tropical gear and show up by the hundreds you know he’s doing something right.

As he’s done for quite some years here through a friendly relationship with Honolulu promoter Tom Moffatt, Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band begin touring in April and end here in the late fall, just before Buffett’s Dec. 25 birthday.

“Why wouldn’t you end in Hawaii? Duh?,” he asked rhetorically to roars of approval on a clear night with a moon just a sliver off full.

(His first concert here, he said, was as an opening act for the Eagles — now if that doesn’t date you! Buffett is 67.)

Jimmy Buffett performs at the Waikiki Shell on Saturday, Dec. 14. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Jimmy Buffett performs at the Waikiki Shell on Saturday, Dec. 14. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Saturday, Buffett and his 11-piece band (longtime musical director “Mr.” Mike Utley, plus instruments ranging from horns to slide guitar to congas and steel drums, and two female backup singers) had women whose senior proms were probably in the 1950s and ‘60s wearing sarongs and dancing in their seats, the aisles and wherever else the ushers would let them. Buffett crowds often have to be restrained — not from any kind of violence, but from an excess of enthusiasm — and Saturday was no exception.

Beach balls flew about as Buffett reprised vintage work and introduced new. You haven’t lived until you’ve been hit by a beach ball at a JB concert.

This articulate and wry writer/musician enjoys teasing his fans as he introduces his work; one of the most enjoyable things for fans is to guess which song he’s hinting at next. When you guess right, you feel so all about yourself.

When he mentioned having gone to dinner at Club Mariana, I turned to my seat companion and said, “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” And I was right.

When he told of having gone to a local karaoke bar and witnessed what he was sure was the worst karaoke performance he’d ever heard (by a group of employees of a local bank who will remain nameless for pity’s sake), the crowd howled. Not least because he admitted that, on occasion, he’s been too drunk to karaoke his own songs properly.

Then, of course, he sang his collaboration with Alan Jackson and Toby Keith, “Too Drunk to Karaoke.”

Veteran performer Buffett was quick to joke with the Waikiki Shell crowd. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Veteran performer Buffett was quick to joke with the Waikiki Shell crowd. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Here’s the thing about Jimmy Buffett. He’s not a great musician, singer or even writer (although he is a master at clever lyrics). He’s told me that himself (well the singer and musician part; I think he’s pretty proud of his writing, as he should be).

But he is a superb entertainer. The way he talks to his audience is the key to the success of his shows. He jokes. He teases. He tells stories on himself, such as the ones he told Saturday night about watching guys getting creamed by monster waves on the North Shore, where he’s been staying for nearly two weeks, and then seeing children dancing in the froth between sets collecting lost slippers. He loves to surf but knows his limits; which might be at the slipper-searching level.

He talked about having been in snowy Montana just a few days before coming here as a way to introduce his standard, “Boat Drinks” (about ordering umbrella drinks in tropical locations), saying “we went from ice to paradise.”

He makes you feel, as a member of the audience, that he wants to be there. With you. Personally. Barefooted. In an aloha shirt. Kanikapila, Gulf- and Western-style. Then he’ll do a ballad such as “Come Monday” (about missing a lover while he’s on the road), bringing sentimental sighs throughout the house.

Here’s another thing: His is really a live band. No pre-recorded tracks. So when he got distracted and left a verse out of “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” — it was, he admitted, a lovely young woman, a man in a particularly elaborate fin hat and somebody toting two kegs of beer that did him in — he broke off and started again and explained himself.

“We’re a bar band and we always have been and we always will be,” he said.

If I have one thing to complain about from Saturday’s concert, it’s Buffett’s girl group’s use of fake hula. Either learn it, or don’t try it. This is the third concert where I could detect my kumu hula turning in her grave.

Buffett, if my ears did not deceive as I tiredly ran off to write this review, did three encores, ending the show officially with “Margarativile,” his biggest hit, and then returning. As I waited for my ride, I listened to dozens of ridiculously dressed people talking over the show as they left. They were clearly firm fans before they bought their tickets and fin heads. But they were not disappointed. Nor was I.

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  • Blake Wood

    Great review, you really captured the essence of every Buffett concert I’ve been to. However, let me correct you on “Boat Drinks”. The song is about ordering tropical drinks in non tropical locations with the dream of heading to a tropical location. Just throught I’d clear that up. Also the Encore, if I remember correctly, went “All Night Long”, “Margaritaville”, “Duke’s on Sunday” (written by Kapono) then “Mele Kalikimaka”, and finally “OIdest Surfer on the Beach”