Sitting through the enormous number of songs at a Jimmy Buffett concert is very much like sipping those margaritas he's so fond of singing about. The first couple are tangy and refreshing, but pretty soon you can't tell one from another, and after a while the whole experience gets a bit numbing. Those who packed Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Sunday, however, clearly found the two-hour-plus show by Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band absolutely intoxicating.
Over the years, Buffett has written some good songs. Most, however, came early in his career--before the frothy sentiments and goofy wordplay overtook his work, before he became a low-rent Dr. Seuss with a Hawaiian shirt. Actually, the fact that there's no edge, nothing remotely provocative to his music or lyrics, largely explains his popularity among the yup-scale crowd. He was doing soothing "new age" stuff before anyone had coined the term.
Buffett and his band operate as a huge lounge revue that plays softly and carries a big shtick, gliding through wispy pieces with anemic Caribbean rhythms that even Michael Franks might consider too passive. The 11-piece group is a skillful, well-drilled outfit, but it tends to sail along on autopilot.
That's why the "Louie Louie" episode was such a momentous occasion: The group played a snippet of that barroom classic to punctuate a Buffett joke. Then, at the audience's insistence, the band launched into a full--and obviously unplanned--version. Nice.
Buffett (who opens a three-night stand at the Universal Amphitheatre tonight) has a salty, irreverent sense of humor, which at least spiced up the between-song proceedings. If only the between-joke proceedings were as consistently interesting.