Theater At Westbury
I am always envious of those who live near big venues because often a long travel can be a deterrent from seeing a concert. What I seem to forget is that I do live near an excellent venue that I should appreciate. The NYCB Theater at Westbury, which is a quick five-minute drive from my house, is one of the premier concert venues in Long Island, and while it may not attract The Rolling Stones (it does only accommodate 3,000), it does bring in its fair share of great artists – two of whom I went to see this weekend.
At face, Don McLean and Burton Cummings seem like an odd concert pairing. One made his contribution as a laid-back American singer-songwriter whose iconic hit “American Pie” will forever be recognized as one of the most influential songs of the 20th century. This of course is Don McLean. Cummings, on the other hand, is a vivacious Canadian piano player with a powerful croon and flute-playing skill. He and his band The Guess Who, during the years of 1965-1975, were not only one of the most productive bands in Canada, but also were one of the hardest working acts in all of rock music. They released several hits like “These Eyes,” “Undun,” and, of course, “American Woman.”
So when my brother, father, and I arrived to Westbury we were ready for a rocking “American” night that would feature two rock classics. That is exactly what we received.
Bye Bye Ms. American Thumb
Westbury has a habit of saying concerts are going to begin at 8 p.m. and then not starting them until 8:30 p.m. Yes, this happens at other arenas too, but Westbury’s tardiness is constant. This is not a problem. They clearly want guests to spend as much time buying drinks in the lobby area as possible. I can’t blame them. Prior to the concert on Saturday, we thought we obviated the need to arrive at the venue 30 minutes early. If we strolled in at 8 p.m. – and watched as much of the exciting Saints vs. 49ers game as possible, we would be none the worse for wear. Yes, we certainly were going to outwit the theater.
The concert started promptly at 8 p.m. We had to scurry to our seats in the dark and be “those idiots” who stroll in late and now obstruct the vision of everyone in the section. Luckily, we had end seats so we were able to just sit down and begin to enjoy Don McLean, who came on first with a small band. He wore jeans and a puffy blue button-down. His hair is still there, and, more importantly, so is his voice.
McLean seemed like he was enjoying himself on stage – a consummate troubadour always likes to tell stories. His acoustic was well-played, despite some sound problems which made the low-end a little choppy and clunky. Unfortunately, he didn’t play “Vincent,” my favorite song by him. He did play “And I Love You So,” which is one of the more popular tracks off of his debut 1970 album Tapestry (Carole King’s Tapestry was released in 1971 – by the way). He also played his cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” which, in my opinion, is one of the only covers that does the original any justice. Do keep in mind Orbison has an operatic voice and the end of the song is like the climax of “Unchained Melody” – untouchable for most singers.
Why does McLean’s version work so well? McLean is a rockabilly throwback who mixes this style of music with 60′s rock n’ roll (he actually said this during the concert). His voice is tinged with Orbison-like rockabilly and tenderness.
Of course, McLean ended the concert with “American Pie” and wow it itself was worth the price of admission. Everyone in the crowd seemed to know every word and we were singing with McLean, who knew it. He encouraged everyone to sing along – even repeating the first verse after getting a standing ovation when everyone thought the song was over. Now I can tell everyone I saw McLean perform “American Pie” live. Awesome.
After a short intermission, Burton Cummings was introduced with his band, and he came out ready to rock. Cummings was upbeat, energetic, excited, fill in the adjective. His voice is supreme. It has an edge that can be adjusted for blues and it has a soft side for softer songs. Let me premise this by saying it was an absolute pleasure to share a night of music with such a legendary musician – who not enough people know about.
And that’s the thing. He, with the Guess Who, wrote songs like “No Time,” “Undun,” “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Hand me Down World,” “American Woman,” fill-in the song. He co-wrote several hits with Randy Bachman, who later formed BTO. Cummings was the lifeblood of The Guess Who and is one of the best musicians from Canada, ever. That is a bold, declarative statement – but I truly believe it. (Wondering What John Phillips of Is It Possible to See It All thinks of that).
Cummings trucked through favorites and chatted with the crowd expressing his gratitude and strong dislike for the band that is currently touring as the Guess Who right now – which is justified as he truly is the band. His supporting band was strong and fun. It truly made for an exciting night. A night that was capped by an awesome performance of “American Woman.”