Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jimmy Buffett, November 24, 2009, MSG, New York, NY

It's a tired phrase but it's worth using here for obvious reasons. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jimmy Buffett has jumped the shark.

Not certain when the phrase came into play but it had its fifteen minutes of fame which were officially over as soon as VH1 came out with a show called Jumped the Shark where comedians discussed celebrity mishaps and made snarky remarks. Wait a minute, isn't that every VH1 show? Nevertheless the phrase "jump the shark" refers to the moment that something once considered interesting and hip, ceases to be cool. The original reference comes from the show Happy Days when the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis (yes he wore his leather jacket when he was on water skis). Up to that point Happy Days was a cool show but once the Fonz was airborne on water skis, defying death by shark and sporting a leather jacket, the show suddenly was considered ridiculous. Other examples include Seinfeld when George's finance, Susan, died, Cheers when Diane left and super stud Sam chased fat Rebecca, and Imus in the Morning when he got sober. Things that never jumped the shark include The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi and Neil Patrick Harris (which is impressive as he was a child actor in the 80's).

Interestingly enough there was a website called but then TV Guide bought the site and the concept of “jumping the shark" jumped the shark. The current phrase is "bone the fish" and if you're interested in what the cyber space community thinks of your favorite shows check out the site

That brings us to Buffett in 2009. Look I'm not comparing this version of Jimmy to the 1985 version where he probably did few lines and smoked an entire bowl minutes before taking stage. Those days are gone for all of us and it would be ludicrous to expect to see a 62 year old guy put on that kind of show. However, the concert this year was a far cry from the stadium shows of just a few years ago and there is a perfect word to describe the entire act: tired.

Jimmy looked and sounded tired, the set was lame and tired and even the crowd seemed remarkably tired. Before Buffett shows at the Garden the tailgating aspect moves to a few of the surrounding bars. Over the years I've always gotten a kick out of the costumes and people drinking out of fishbowls. This year, no coconut bras, no grass skirts and precious few cheeseburger hats. And during the show the crowd sat 70% of the time, even for real crowd pleasers like Cheeseburger in Paradise (a song which I actually despise).

Maybe it's because Buffett is more of a brand than a musical act. It isn't a news flash to his fan base but the shows really are just a means to move product. Margaretville® brand Tequila and Rum, Landshark beer and $50 official Buffett Hawaiian shirts. The man is a brilliant marketer and he's selling escapism. Who doesn't dream of dropping the stress, moving to Anguilla and sticking your toes in the sand? But years of the same ad libs, the same outdated cultural references, it just seemed spent.

The use of the video screen in a concert is a recent phenomenon and some artists know how to work it (see Paisley, Brad) and others are struggling. While Jimmy did use it well on two separate occasions, it was usually more annoying than anything else. For example during the first three songs the screen showed a continuous loop of waves breaking onto the beach. I kept waiting for something to happen. Couldn't a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model burst out of the surf, or even some one dressed up like a marlin? Instead it was the same scene for fifteen minutes. The two occasions where Buffett got a rise out of the crowd was showing video of the USS New York during Southern Cross and again showing the last out of the World Series during Last Man Standing. The World Series scene woke up the crowd as we chanted JIM-MY BUF-FETT to the same cadence we chant DER-REK JE-TER. If you want to grab a New York crowd it's so easy. Show the World Trade Center, the Yankees or the Rangers. These are the things that stir our passions, positively or negatively, but we certainly won't sit on our hands when any of these visions are displayed.

I'm not saying it was a terrible night because there were some highlights and good comedy, but not nearly enough. I always enjoy the excess and there was plenty on hand. I sat next to a biker woman who rode in from Pennsylvania. She was so pumped and had knocked off more than a few prior to the show but midway through the show, she was out cold in her seat. That looked like a nasty return trip on a motorcycle.

Likewise there are some aspects from a Buffett concert that remain awesome no matter how many times you've seen the show. Tonight these things didn't disappoint and they include watching the crowd make fins in unison with their hands during Fins, mixing the Beatles' Shake It Up Baby into We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About, and of course, Margaretville still sounds great in concert all these years later. Another highlight for me was hearing My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus in concert for the first time. I've been going to Buffett concerts for over twenty years so I love hearing old songs live for the first time.

One last interesting Buffett concert fact. For years Jimmy has been broadcasting all his concerts live over his website and his Sirius Satellite radio channel. His hard core fans listen to the concerts and chat on fan boards during the show. What I didn’t know was that thirty minutes after the concert ends his Sirius station rebroadcasts the show. How crazy is that when you’ve been at the concert. By the time I got to my car I was listening to the show I had just attended. Talk about déjà vu!