Don McLean is an American treasure. There’s no two ways around it. Last night (Thurs, April 6th) at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, he showed the crowd why. Or rather, the crowd showed him why his music has lasted throughout the generations.
McLean is one of America’s (hell, the world’s) most prolific songwriters. Though he’s best remembered as the singer on only two of his seminal hits: “Vincent” and the magnum opus that is “American Pie”.
However, the night was filled with a musical homage to the works of other artists that inspired McLean’s folk-pop crossover style. McLean is famously infatuated with the music of the gone-too-soon Buddy Holly, and he played two of the late rocker’s hits early on in the show. Hits by Ray Charles, Bessie Smith, and Johnny Cash also made appearances. He also performed songs he’s written for other artists, including the Elvis Presley staple, “And I Love You So”.
One cover of note was McLean’s rendition of the Roy Orbison classic “Crying.” Beginning eerily off-tempo, the song built to an awe-inspiring crescendo. McLean’s pristine falsetto on this number earned him the first of many standing ovations throughout the 100-minute set.
Don McLean is an American treasure.
Ever the creator, McLean brought with him new music that he recently penned. Ordinarily, people go to see legends to hear the hits. But, because his legacy is his songwriting prowess, those at the B.B. King did not mind one bit. In fact, they were happy to see the 71 year-old still using his unparalleled poetry skills. One song, “Botanical Gardens”, which has yet to be released, is nearly as powerful as anything McLean wrote 40 years ago.
Of course, McLean saved his mega-hits for the final quarter of the concert. Crowds will never let that man off the stage without having heard “Vincent” and “American Pie”. In fact, after finishing the nearly 9-minute epic, he led the crowd in a reprise of the chorus and first verse. McLean knows his fans could sing along with that song all day, and freely admits “Pie” has been bringing home the dough for several decades.
And those decades were represented at the Times Square concert last night. The crowd was filled with a surprisingly healthy dosage of millennials (reporter included). Of course other ages were represented as well. McLean’s cross-generational appeal was even evident at my table: I sat across from a lovely octogenarian who recently moved to New York to enjoy retirement. Seated behind me, a forty-something couple cuddled to the love songs. And two tables down, there was the man-bunned hipster who did, true to the lyric, kick off his shoes.
New York digged those rhythm and blues.