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Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band

The carnival's still going...

By Joel Rosenberg

Fleet Center

Sunday, February 28, 1999

I couldn’t convince anyone to go see Jimmy Buffett with me. Sure, it was Sunday, and sure, it was gonna be $40, but I decided I haven’t been partying like it’s 1999. Besides, nobody really feels alone at Jimmy’s parties.

It was a buyer’s market outside the Fleet Center, burning the hands of scalpers. And it was obvious the carnival was in town by the grass skirts and palm-tree topped sombreros, Hawaiian shirts and shark fin hats. Once inside, you knew Corona was fully prepared by the rainbow streamers and hanging parrots decorating the concession stands. Of course, when I actually tried to buy a Corona, I was neg’d by the Caribbean-attired bartender since at the Fleet, to drink you have to be 25 with an out-of-state license. The pile of lime wedges made it tough to walk away thirsty.

I found my balcony seat and settled in. The guy with the basketball hoop on lazy tongs came out, and people were having their free throws assisted by the correctable net. He disappeared for a little while, and came back out with his t-shirt cannon, capable of blasting the projectile to the upper deck from the floor, which he demonstrated repeatedly to the delight of the upper deck. Then, after disappearing again, he returned, leading a Brazillian parade through the crowd which ended on stage. And that’s when Buffett drove out in a 2-dimensional theater car, tossing beads into the audience. A remarkable entrance.

Set one started with “Get You,” and then right into “Fruitcakes,” a good example of Jimmy’s subversiveness and counter-cultural flair (“Where’s the church, who took the steeple / Religion is in the hands of some crazy-ass people”). With a little “Love and Luck” he got the crowd singing, and then got down on the “Knees of my Heart.” At that point, he played those distinctive first notes that start “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” and the crowd’s cheering prevented him from continuing. When he was finally allowed to go on, he wound up talking to his girl from the song on a cell phone, which he promptly got rid of at the end while making a negative comment about technology.

“Come Monday” into “Brown Eyed Girl” was truly participatory, to the point where singing “Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-ti-da” just sounded ridiculous. “Jamaica Mistaica” is the story of that country’s apology after firing upon Jimmy’s presumed drug-carrying sea plane. Flanking both sides of the stage were video screens, expertly used not for showing us in the nosebleeds close-ups of the band, which they did, but in showing clips throughout the night, here of Jimmy being towed on a boogie-board by his aircraft.

“Rhiota” turned the whole place into a lounge, and “Will Work 4 Gumbo” set up “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” accompanied by video shot at previous shows, concluding with -- what could be more rock & roll -- a woman flashing. It should be pointed out that there aren’t many people who can get away with showing topless women while wearing a fluorescent pink t-shirt and fluorescent pink wristbands. Finishing the set with “We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About,” written in 1983, proved that many of his songs are timeless.

During the set break, a video of rehearsals was playing, concluding with Buffett singing with Kermit, an animated character, and other muppets. He then returned for the second set, playing a solo acoustic “Boat Drinks,” and a harmonica-backed “Pencil Thin Mustache” to the seats behind the stage. “A Pirate Looks at Forty” moved into James Taylor’s “Mexico,” a perfect cover. When I first started listening to Buffett, it seemed like everyone’s favorite song was “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” but now, many years later, most people know “Margaritaville,” and even more know “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” having survived political correctness. These two were broken up by “One Particular Harbor,” (I only heard one person yell “Boston!”), and “The City,” which was shamelessly accompanied by video of the Pats, the Bruins, and the Celtics, mixed with shots of Jimmy riding his bike around famous cities, ending with his entrance into Cheers. The crowd ate it up.

Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s “Southern Cross” fed “Fins,” which ended the second set. But Boston hadn’t had enough, and when Jimmy returned for his first encore, the song, “Math Sucks,” was surreal. The lyrics ragged on how hard math is, and eventually devolved into the line “Math sucks the big one,” with appropriate melody sung in back-up harmony. Kind of unfortunate, when you consider Buffett has recently been involved in children’s education. I wasn’t impressed. And “Volcano,” which he followed with, has a rather bleak feel to it, especially these days.

Still, he did a second encore, “Time To Go Home,” and after three hours, it was indeed. “I’ll see some of you tomorrow night, at the Walden Woods Benefit, and the rest of you this summer!” If you missed him Sunday, you could have gone to see him Monday at the Boston Park Plaza for $250, $500, or $1000. One night was enough for me, especially since the Walden benefit probably wasn’t left littered with empty plastic cups on a floor slippery from beer -- the sign of any good party, which I don’t get to see enough of any more.