Review by Adrian Peel with Photography by Michael Sibbons

People dressed in Hawaiian shirts, garlands and a variety of weird and wonderful headgear standing outside this lovely venue could only mean one thing: singing legend Jimmy Buffett and his dedicated fans – the Parrotheads – were back in town.

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Inside the theatre, I also saw a man dressed as a pirate and another as Batman and a few concert-goers were in sailor-esque getup. Amusingly, beach balls were flying around the stalls and the security guard who collected and confiscated them was roundly booed.

Starting promptly, support came in the form of ukulele maestro and Jimmy Buffett protege Jake Shimabukuro, who got the crowd singing along with his passionate instrumental rendition of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. One by one, members of Jimmy’s Coral Reefer Band came out on stage.

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Comprising 12 musicians, the band included a steel drums player, a steel guitarist (hooray!) and two female backing vocalists – as well as Jake and his ukulele. ‘Everybody’s Talkin” – made famous by Harry Nilsson – was the opening track and it was swiftly followed by the first Jimmy Buffett classic of the evening, ‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes’.

The beach balls began to fly about again (where were they all coming from?) as more fan favourites followed. Jimmy, dressed, inevitably, in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and eschewing footwear noted that it had been a long time since his last gig in London, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (in 2009). “So this happens every Monday night in London?!” he had earlier exclaimed.

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Radiating sun-drenched charisma on a rather drizzly night, the 72-year-old sounded in fine voice – his band were outstanding too – and his wonderful ear for melody was highlighted early on, on enjoyable compositions such as ‘Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit’, ‘Jamaica Mistaica’ (about the time his aeroplane was shot at by the authorities in Jamaica, who believed it was carrying drugs) and the glorious ‘Come Monday’ from 1974.

Long before Kenny Chesney popularised ‘beach songs’ in country music, there was Jimmy Buffett, and his more recent duet with Alan Jackson, the anthemic ‘It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere’, was delightful sing-a-long fun, with Buffett’s long-time guitarist and “wing man” Mac McAnally tackling the Alan Jackson part.

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Jimmy told stories between the songs, explaining for example how his grandfather had moved from St John’s, Newfoundland down to New Orleans (“Thank God he did!”) ahead of ‘Son of a Son of a Sailor’ and revealing that he likes fish and chips, adding: “But every now and then, a cheeseburger comes to mind.” Cue ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ and more near-hysteria.

A particular highlight was ‘Fins’. I loved watching the colourful crowd putting their hands together above their heads to mimic a shark’s fin and doing the dance routine – and I couldn’t help but laugh at the inflatable sharks that suddenly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, given the beach party atmosphere, flew through the air.

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The second half started in slightly more sedate fashion, with a new song entitled ‘The World Is What You Make It’, featuring Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, and ‘Scarlet Begonias’, a so-so number where “Parrotheads meet Deadheads”. Jimmy also performed the charming ‘Oldest Surfer on the Beach’, written by his friend Mark Knopfler. “I hope I can do it justice,” he said beforehand. He did.

It was also great to hear the Zac Brown Band/Jimmy Buffett duet from 2011, ‘Knee Deep’, with Mac McAnally again helping out on vocals. I loved the way the songs tended to drift between the upbeat escapist pop of recent decades and the more steel guitar-driven, traditional country sound of early Jimmy Buffett. A good example of the latter was ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw’ from 1973.

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I absolutely loved this show and its positive, good-time vibe. It was the most fun I’d had at a gig for a long time and I really hope I get the chance to see Jimmy Buffett in concert again some day. I may even wear a Hawaiian shirt and take a beach ball along next time…

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