Jarrod Dickenson and his wife Clare took to the stage and were immediately made aware that they were going to have to work to win over fans of Don McLean. The opening song "Faint Of Heart" received a polite round of applause. Fortunately the tall Texan from Waco, has an array of material and some tried and tested patter that will normally win over the hardest of hearts. The second song the soulful "Take It From Me" and then the wonderful "Your Heart Belongs To Me" each saw increased reactions from the audience, the latter prominently featuring Clare who supplies the vocals where the song says "and she said". Jarrod has a rich warm voice that is perfectly suited to storytelling songs.
The audience were there to see one legendary songwriter but Jarrod was happy to introduce them to another with a cover of Guy Clark's "Dublin Blues". Hopefully his numerous mentions of the wonderful new album "Ready The Horses" paid dividends in sales as it surely deserves it. There was even a tease of what is to come next with what sounded a great new song "Prefer To Lose" while the short set closed with the tale of two people meeting but not quite hooking up, the perfectly detailed "Nothing More" where the characters are so richly described you can almost see them as Jarrod sings.
Any Don McLean concert is always going to end up at one destination, there will be a few predetermined stop off points along the way but in essence the moment that most of the audience were waiting for occurred as the penultimate song of the main set which saw many of them transformed and transported back to an earlier time in their lives. The sheer joy that this one song can bring was quite amazing to witness. "American Pie" came towards the back of a 2 hour set that saw Don pretty much do as he pleased in the run up to it, if he fancied playing a song at any time he would, the set list has apparently been something of a moveable feast as the tour has progressed.
A couple of areas that received surprisingly low amounts of concert time were the new album and Don's own songs from his back catalogue. The new album "Botanical Gardens" contributed only three songs to the evening, the title track, "Lucky Man" and "You've Got Such Beautiful Eyes" all of which stood up well against the more established material, Jarrod could certainly teach Don a thing or two about plugging a new album as he barely referenced it all night!
With 19 studio albums to his name, perhaps his fans may have expected more of his own material but the choices he did make were some of the most interesting songs of the night,. "Prime Time" was a biting satire on the state of America, a storming rocker of a song, while "Have You Seen Me" took it's inspiration from the pictures of missing children that used to appear on milk cartons and the fact that a lot of these children ended up in prison or the military. It was great so see an artist with something to say and displayed a political side to Don's work that I'd been unaware of. I'd also not realised that he was the author of the American Songbook classic "And I Love You So" which first appeared on his "Tapestry" album covered by just about every crooner ever since. There were also trips back to the "American Pie" album for the piano ballad "Crossroads" and a moving solo performance of "Empty Chairs".
A lot of the time though visits to his back catalogue were for covers of songs that he has done through the years, such as "Love Hurts" , Buddy Holly's "Everyday" and of course one of the aforementioned stop off points the Roy Orbison cover "Crying" that he took to the top of the UK charts. "Crying" is a song that leaves no room for the vocalist to shirk the big notes and Don is still able to hit the notes.
There were an array of other covers that featured, and they were from times that Don has an obvious fondness for, so there was "Singing The Blues" and The Everly Brothers "Walk Right Back" which was the final encore, and there were also notable versions of Don William's "Living On Tulsa Time", Johnny Cash's "Fulsom Prison Blues" and "Midnight Special"
The end only came after 2 hours of solid entertainment, "Vincent" was the first encore and the last of our required songs of the evening, there was a slight waver on the final note but after a set that many a man half his age would have failed to deliver that's a minor quibble. He showed that age is no barrier for still having something to important to say nor does it stop you from being able to put together a cracking show. The crowd may have come for a bit of "American Pie" but they left after having had a four course meal.