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McLean shows far more than two good songs

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, Cal., March 22, 2019

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

If you believe one overheard remark, that a Don McLean concert features only two good songs ("American Pie," "Vincent"), you would have missed a show that strongly contradicts such an assumption. McLean's performance offered an enjoyable mixture of career highlights and favorite oldies and is by no means a two-hit wonder.

Of course, McLean sang "American Pie" at the end of his show. This complicated and enigmatic song beguiled many music fans in the '70s, as it mystically chronicled rock history. Fans stood, clapped and sang along. So enthusiastically, in fact, McLean sang one verse a second time. Before singing "Vincent," Mclean explained about how many contemporary artists have covered this painter biography.

"American Pie" describes "the day the music died," referencing a plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly (among others). McLean kept Holly's memory alive with his cover of "Everyday." McLean, clearly enamored with early rock and roll, also sang Gene Vincent's "Lotta Lovin'" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," made famous by Elvis. McLean prefaced his hit cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying," by telling a great story about hanging out with the Roy the house of another Sun Records alum, Johnny Cash, on Grammy night.

McLean could be a little crusty during his between song comments. He introduced "And I Love You So" as a song many might know from hearing it played over the PA at a supermarket. He also spoke of how Drake (first asking if this older audience even recognized that rapper's name) had sampled a few of McLean's recent recordings. He basically said that one of the primary reasons to record new music at his age, was for other artists to sample it.

When McLean sang "Empty Chairs," the song that famously inspired Roberta Flack's hit "Killing Me Softly," it was so quietly sad, it proved to still retain a power to kill, albeit softly. McLean joked that, although he sings a lot of unhappy songs, he's actually a happy guy. He expressed this happiness with one new song, "The Lucky Guy," which was joyous.

A couple songs felt a little out of place this night. "Jerusalem" was a pointedly political song about this ofttimes troubled nation. Though not particularly religious, McLean also led the audience in a churchy sing-along on the children's hymn "This Little Light of Mine."

It's unfair to judge a prolific songwriter on just two of his more famous songs. McLean deserves better. Tonight, he gave many in the audience exactly what they came for (those two songs), but also so much more.