Review: Don McLean, Christchurch Town Hall

Don McLean performing at the Christchurch Town Hall.
Stacy Squires
Don McLean performing at the Christchurch Town Hall.

Don McLean at Christchurch Town Hall, Monday, February 22. Reviewed by Vicki Anderson.

American singer/songwriter Don McLean's songs have been covered by everyone from Madonna to Weird Al  Yankovic, Fred Astaire, George Michael, Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Glen Campbell and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Arriving on stage in blue jeans with his guitar slung around his neck, McLean, 66, said he'd start with a few ''oldies''.

The audience, mostly ''oldies'' themselves seemed pleased.

Somewhat miraculously, McLean has never played the same set twice in his 42 years of making music because he ''didn't want to commit suicide''.

Although known largely for his hits Vincent and American Pie, he has a wealth of material to draw upon.

You have to admire the guy, constantly evolving his music over four generations but knowing all the while you were on stage that the audience were just hanging out for American Pie, the elephant in the room.

McLean makes music the old fashioned way - you know, without Autotune and actually being able to sing, create melodies and play guitar.

He's from a vintage where colour TV was novel enough to earn a line in a song and sex was referred to in songwriting through the use of vehicular analogies - pumping pistons and locomotives. A time when 'swell' was common vernacular and winking rhymed nicely with drinking.

On a curious note I noted that hobos were a strong theme for the night. And I felt more than vaguely uncomfortable when he sang about streetwalkers and nymphomaniacs. The septuagenarians seated next to me started getting fresh.

A cantankerous gentleman, McLean said he hadn't been to New Zealand for 16 years and was glad he got here again before Oprah did.

Rather sweetly he thanked the audience for buying a ticket to see him because ''you could have spent that money on drugs, alcohol or pornography'' before promising to give some pleasure.

Judging by the audience's reaction he did just that, whether belting out And I Love Her So, Tulsa Time, Keys to the Kingdom, Wonderful Baby - the song he wrote for Fred Astaire, who performed it before he died, or hitting the high notes of Cryin',  the Roy Orbison song he has made his own.

I'm from a different generation and found myself yawning a little bit through Jerusalem, and Have You Seen Me, with its tales of war and missing children's photos on milk cartons, almost had me cryin'.

Naturally Vincent and American Pie got the desired reactions - a standing ovation for the latter.

''I still got it,'' McLean said triumphantly waving his arms in the air.

If by ''it'' he meant a mix of unpretentious music and rich melodies and stories told the old-fashioned way, he was right.

Killing me softly with his songs.

The Press