I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a chilly Thursday evening in Sydney than by defrosting my weary self by the warm and sparkling fire of a Jimmy Webb concert. The City Recital Hall had just a man, with a piano, but with some of the most glorious songs you have ever heard, luscious song writing and storytelling from one of the masters. This was a leisurely drive through a stunning landscape of unforgettable visage. Another sold out venue to add to this already successful and sold out Australian tour is just indicative of the talent and legacy that is Jimmy Webb. For me, it was a bonfire of musical proportions and all that I was missing was some marshmallows.
I have always known the name and some of the songs but needed a more thorough lesson in the genius of this singing and song writing legend. A legend who has over 50 years worth of music, writing for the likes of Paul McCartney, Glenn Campbell, Linda Ronstadt, The 5th Dimension, Johnny Cash, Art Garfunkel etc as standard. This list is endless and deserves an encyclopedia of its own. Not only is that list endless but so are the numerous Grammys/awards, projects, collaborations and being Chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Again, just the basic kind of phenomenal achievements (sarcasm) that none of us would even get a glimpse of in a lifetime. It is no wonder that this man has a cult status and is celebrated as one of the top 50 songwriters of all time.
Starting our journey with ‘Highwayman’ and moving through ‘Galveston’ and ‘All I Know’, we are all caught up in this other world, Jimmy entertains and chats and tells the greatest stories. A lovely and affable man, natural and genuine. You could hear a pin drop, the audience wouldn’t dare to interrupt, absorbing every morsel, listening and learning. Jimmy recalls his early musical experiences from being taught piano by his talented and driven mother, to his piano playing church involvement as the ‘preacher’s son’. Crediting his Oklahoma upbringing as paving the way for much of his sweeping song writing style, describing this as the “high end emotion and drama of religion”.
Our next track ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ opens our eyes to two types of success, one with this track being recorded by such wonderful singers like Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, but also the sinister side of the industry. As Jimmy tells us, it was “crucified by Kanye West”, after the track was heavily sampled and not credited when Kanye’s ‘Famous’ was nominated for a Grammy. Not only is that ridiculous but grossly unfair and unjust, as we know that not much has been written this century that hasn’t been sampled (stolen in many cases) from another original artist. We all hear it, and it’s one of the main reasons I can’t listen to mainstream radio. Not many people would disagree with Jimmy’s statement last night that “Grammys don’t mean anything, it’s a big joke”. This man has earned more than his stripes and deserves to be treated accordingly. He also mentioned that “this song was written when I was 16 years old, signed to Motown”… remarkable… such is this Heavenly, blessed talent.
Now back to my toasty Jimmy Webb bonfire, it’s time for some ‘Up, Up And Away’, that magical tune made famous by The 5th Dimension. I have a soft spot for this song, chirpy but multi layered where audience participation is a must as those high notes are not easily reached. Jimmy’s self deprecating personality is refreshing, making light jokes about his inability to get ‘that high’. We don’t care, we are all just more than chuffed to be here and it just gets better when ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ comes on. It’s silence except for the sliding, effortless piano and vocals, the floaty and winding lyrics. It’s one of the many songs made famous by Glen Campbell. We then hear more tales – stories of friendship and respect between writer and singers, from all across the spectrum. Our door into this other world is wide open and once ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ begins, the journey just gets deeper. A sweet, haunting song, totally beguiling. Just stunning. It really is a treat to hear these songs stripped back to piano and Jimmy’s voice. ‘Just Like Always’ is the same. Not one track disappoints. The iconic ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘MacArthur Park’ just overflowing with emotion and substance. The first being described as one of the best songs ever written and the latter another classic of sweeping melody and piano. Drawing you in, even us ‘non-song writers’ can understand the magnitude of what we are witnessing here. It continues as ‘Adios’ is playing and our final encore song of ‘Didn’t We’ finishes up our evening.
We could have been anywhere last night – a close intimate gathering at a friend’s house or a smoky cellar bar in any part of the world. Our evening weaved in and out of song and story and it didn’t surprise me when I overhead that a big fan flew over from New Zealand to see Jimmy last night. This is one special man and my recollection of last night will be like a Da Vinci art class. We have been taught about oils, acrylics and waters, and how they can work together or separate to create any masterpiece you wish. Except in this case, it’s like Jimmy Webb’s life is the main masterpiece and each song is like each little piece making up just one section of a vast canvas. With stories and memories binding, what a beautiful story you tell, Jimmy, and it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of it, even just for those couple of hours. I feel another tour may be on the cards, judging by the love and admiration shown to you by our Australian audiences. Truly spellbinding. Real music, real magic…
© MARINA KNEZEVIC 2017. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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