McLean serves up his own hits and those of others

If most of the mostly boomer-vintage fans came for singer-songwriter Don McLean’s hits, he also serv

Returning for what turned into long encores on Saturday at The Egg, Don McLean crowed, “You make me feel 60 tonight!” And before his final number “Castles in the Air,” about his mid-1960s Hudson Valley apprenticeship with Pete Seeger, the veteran troubadour proclaimed, “Music is always young, always the same” — explaining why he still does it, despite his hitmaker’s prosperity.

If most of the mostly boomer-vintage fans who nearly filled The Egg came for McLean’s hits, he also served up others’. He started with some somewhat too-subdued Buddy Holly classics — “Well, Alright” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” — later challenged his voice with Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and found it all there, falsetto and all, and celebrated the vintage pop of his youth with the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn chestnut “Dance With Me.” Late in the encores, he reached back even further for a Josh White blues about integrating the military during WWII and the even older “Hard-Headed Woman Blues.”

Turning to his own deep songbook only after his Buddy Holly opener, McLean crooned “La La Love You,” stretching his voice for the first time. Looking more grandfatherly than in his last (early 1990s) show here, McLean proved he still has every bit of his warm and flexible voice, and it sounded better and better as he grew more relaxed and loose.

As a writer, he has to string enough notes together to carry all the syllables; but as a singer, he made it sound easy on Saturday. His solid and unobtrusive band rolled mellowly along behind him, and his mid-set solo string of “I Never Thought You Would,” Winter Wood” and “If We Try” had a coffeehouse casualness.

He seemed far less mellow, however, in some curmudgeonly songs and spoken asides that recalled Van Morrison at his most snide and bitter. “I Hate Fashion” slagged superficiality, and “Run Diana Run” decried parasitic paparazzi; but both sounded sour and dated. He blamed Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, both his betters, for inspiring those who caused “the art of songwriting to essentially disappear,” an unnecessarily mean-spirited introduction for a charming rendition of the ancient “Cottage for Sale,” nearly warm enough to eclipse the bile that preceded it.

The closing run of his breakless two-hour show was a roller-coaster ride emotionally: the cozy “Cottage,” the soaring “Crying” — with quite astounding vocal pyrotechnics — the dismal “Run Diana Run,” then a generously stretched out “American Pie” before a relaxed string of encores. He and his fans didn’t want to let go of “Pie.” Quietly passive to that point, the crowd sang lustily and McLean kept them at it with a reprise of the chorus and first verse.

Though he noted that he had fulfilled his “statutory obligations” — for the length of the show, or by singing “American Pie?” — McLean warmed up during encores with the touching “The Three of Us” about family and aging and “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” about the persistence and fragility of art.

Aging, but his voice still strong, McLean encapsulated both.

Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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