Name: Ron Buck
Remember the MTV Unplugged series a few years ago? The concept was to take a megastar out of their usual arena-sized concert location, place them in an intimate TV studio environment with a specially selected audience of die-hard fans placed close enough to be spat at, minimize the backing musicians and make the viewer feel like the performance was taking place in their own front room, just for them. Dons Tuesday night performance at the Chicago Rock Caf in Northampton would not have been a bit out of place in that historic series.
Having watched Don from afar over many years in the usual large venue theatres all over the UK, as soon as I walked into the Auditorium (I use the word loosely) of the Chicago Rock Caf and saw audience seating close enough to the stage area to read the brand-name of Dons Guitar lead which casually hung over his mic-stand, I knew I was in for something of a special evening and so it turned out to be – times ten.
Before things had even kicked off proper I was on cloud nine as I had managed to spend a good half hour on my own with Dons Lead Guitar player Kerry Marx (A Session Guitar legend in Nashville) finding out more about him, his equipment and best of all the famous Nashville Numbering System. He was so gracious that he even allowed me to look over his own Charts as provided by Don and explained them to me!
In an electric atmosphere of excited anticipation the whole band eventually entered stage-front through the audience itself (with Don in the rear) just after 10:15pm, quickly mounted the small stage at the side (just big enough to get everyone on!) and Don was up and at it within seconds with Maybe Baby he seemed to be genuinely excited about being back in the type of venue he had probably cut his teeth in as rising star in the early parts of his career. With nothing to prove to such an audience these days of course, he relaxed wonderfully and gave a master-class of how to hold an audience in the palm of the hand and why Killing Me Softly was inspired by him. Additionally I could not have personally been any closer to Don even by being on stage with the rest of the Good Old Boys of the band and playing. I had to pinch myself several times over to believe that it was really happening!
Heres the whole set-list (Actual keys shown in parenthesis for your Pickers out there): –
1. Maybe Baby (A major)
2. Everyday (E major)
3. Supermans Ghost (C major)
4. Fashion Victim (E minor)
5. Have You Seen Me? (E major) Guitar solo tops!
6. Crying (C major)
7. Little Sister (E major)
8. Winterwood (A major)
BAND SOLO Don left the stage, the Band played on – a 12 Bar Blues, all trading 4s!
9. Crossroads Just piano
10. The Very Thought Of You Just piano
DON SOLO SPOT Just Don and his D40-DM and two chairs (The other for his Fingerpicks!)
11. Empty Chairs (G major) Well, one at least!
12. And I Love You So (A major, using G fingerings, capo fret II)
13. Under The Double Eagle (G major)
14. Castles In The Air (E major, D fingerings, Capo II)
15. Vincent (G major)
16. Jerusalem (E major)
17. Death By Photography (A major)
18. American Pie (G major)
After AP Don promptly exited stage-right as fast as he had started the night, stopped to talk with Alan Howard momentarily (just what did he really say?), then proceeded to walk right through the middle of the audience with his Guitar slung over his shoulder, his tour-manager ahead parting the waves of fans, who, none-the-less, managed to get an occasional touch of our mans shirt, Guitar, or whatever they could. There was a noticeable sway of hands gesturing were not worthy all the way to the door as Don sauntered out of the Auditorium and into the lobby area via the same route he had entered an hour and a half earlier. Once again I was seventeen and wishing I could be as cool as Don some day, but then realized that I would also need to be that talented too in order to achieve the former! The highlights for me? The two guitar solos by Kerry Marx on Have You Seen Me and Little Sister (I was feeling like I knew him by now Anyway!), Tony Migliores piano on Crossroads, but most of all Dons Flatpicking on Under The Double Eagle, ala Doc Watson. Believe me, in that playing style (basically Bluegrass Guitar) hes up there was the best in the World, and I had the thrill of being able to see the faces of the audience while he was doing it from where I was sat and Ive never seen so many open mouths opened simultaneously!
All in all, possibly THE most memorable night of Don McLean Ive ever had (on a par with my first ever taste in the front row at the New Theatre Oxford where parts of the Solo album were recorded in 1975), and an experience I would have paid ten times over for had I had any idea of what I was going to be letting myself in for beforehand. I just felt sorry for all the other Guitar Anoraks who didnt get to meet Kerry Marx and see Don work his Guitar over from tip to toe the way I had the privilege to. Boy, close up and personal that man can really play!
My only disappointment was that some talented and enterprising TV producer hadnt had the nounce to tape the evenings proceedings for the benefit of all who were unfortunately not there in person to witness what was one of those rare musical Events you can never plan for and been able to record it for posterity. So, eat your heart out MTV, you wont have anything already in the can to match this performance, and probably never will unless you get to talk to Dons agent again real soon.
Review: I thought the show was superb throughout with a mixture of full band uptempo music to some of Don’s more classical songs like ‘Castles in the Air’ and ‘Winterwood.’ At the end of the gig Don and his band got a standing ovation and truly well deserved!
Review: Having had tickets for the London show and been disappointed when it was cancelled I was determined not to miss Don in action and so travelled to Northampton and I’m so glad I did. It was great fun and hearing him playing all the songs I’ve listened to for years live was something I won’t ever forget, particulary now I’m home listening to him on CD. I phoned my kids 14,13 and 8 during the show just so they could hear him live too which they thought was great. It was all great fun – thank you.
Photo submitted by Nicky:
Name: Lee Basham
Review: First time seeing ‘the lengendary Don McLean’ in action and was very very impressed. On some songs you could close your eyes and imagine you were sitting at home with the headphones on!!! Magic!! After reading some of the other reviews posted, I was worried that his band may drown him out but this wasn’t the case at Chicago’s. My wife was a bit dubious about getting the tickets, but was soon clapping along with the rest of us, realising that she knew a great deal more of the songs than she first thought. A thoroughly enjoyable night.
In my opinion, this was the best show of the tour so far. The Chicago Rock Cafe in Northampton is a popular nightclub. Don McLean was one of the biggest stars to appear there and the venue staff were delighted and excited. They were a very very friendly bunch who made sure everything was in place for a great night. Though nearly 1000 tickets were sold the atmosphere was quite intimate with Don and the band located centrally with the whole audience in close proximity. There were a few tables but most were standing.
At the sound check, arrangements were made for Don to go on stage at 10.00pm and perform for 60 minutes. In the event, he started at 10.15pm and performed for one hour thirty five minutes without break. The audience was receptive, loud and enjoyed themselves tremendously. It was a mixed crowd but young people, probably students, were in the majority. Don McLean was delighted to see these people up and dancing through American Pie and others.
Much of the show consisted of rocking upbeat numbers. The sound quality was superb and the volume set very very high.
Mid way through, Don sat down and performed a few songs with just his guitar, including And I lOve You So, Empty Chairs, and Vincent, and a couple of songs, including Crossroads, accompanied by Tony Migliore on piano. Don was visibly delighted at the reception these solo numbers received. Don acknowledged the genuinely great crowd. Even the guitar picking with Ralph Childs was lapped up by this young audience.
This concert was a triumphant success for Don and his band.