Saturday, July 15, 2017

Music: Jimmy Webb

Heath Ledger Theatre
July 1, 2017

The last time the American songwriter Jimmy Webb played Perth, a paltry 100 or so people were sprinkled around the little Fly By Night Club in Fremantle.
Six years later, the swanky, and much larger, Heath Ledger Theatre was full to over-capacity.
This was partly due to much better promotion of this visit, but something else, I suspect, was afoot – call it nostalgia if you like, but that doesn’t adequately explain the resurgence in the careers of the septuagenarian Webb and his veteran peers.
Webb, though, is a unique case; he’s never had a hit single of his own, his own albums sell modestly, and yet he’s been a major star since the 1960s on the strength of his songwriting alone.

In his heyday he was no more than a journeyman singer, but, though his voice, at the end of a long tour, was a little strained at times, it’s now a much more evocative and effective instrument. His piano playing remains a strength, even though it might be a little florid now he’s playing the concert halls.
But it’s the songs, not the singer, the audience came for, and, from the opener, Highwayman, a massive hit for the outlaw country supergroup of (almost) the same name, to the encore, the Frank Sinatra standard Didn’t We, their appreciation was boundless.
No wonder, with American epics like Galveston, Wichita Lineman, All I Know, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, his gigantic magnum opus, Macarthur Park (a thunderous piano solo in its midst had the crowd on its feet) and even the high pop of Up, Up and Away.
Webb’s gift is songs that are something close to the American Creed – the ordinary man as Hero – and there’s no doubt the appetite for them remains well and truly alive. 

This review appeared in The West Australian 3.7.17

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