McLean brings his fan-friendly style to Keswick

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

About the best way to describe the Don McLean concert at Glenside's Keswick Theatre on Friday is sedate — both artist and audience.

The singer/songwriter hasn't had a hit record in this country in years, but he's released nearly 30 albums during his long career, and he's toured constantly over the years, including 12 world tours, that he knows what works best for him.

McLean is hard to categorize because he's released pop, folk and country records, and he's had hits with cover versions of other artists' songs. Some of his records were bigger hits in other countries than they were in America, and some of his songs were bigger hits when covered by other artists, such as Perry Como's version of And I Love You So.

McLean retained the copyrights and publishing rights to all of his material — something that was unheard of by artists of his time — and he has enjoyed the income generated by it, such as the licensing of American Pie for the hit movie and for Madonna's recent version of the song.

This tour marks his 30th anniversary in the recording business, and McLean has earned the right to do whatever he pleases. Most of the over-50 crowd at the Keswick was perfectly content with that during a 28-song concert that was broken up into three sets over 2-1/2 hours.

After a few songs, McLean began a rapport with the audience by telling stories. Some were about his life, such as his local connections. (He once attended Villanova University and was a friend of fellow student and musician Jim Croce.) Others were about the songs themselves.

"Many years ago, I was hired by the city of New York to sing in all of the towns along the Hudson River, he said. "I was the only one who would do it, so that's why I got the job."

The experience begat the song Castles In the Air, he explained, but it was his use of humor during these diatribes that seemed to keep the audience interested and entertained.

"I opened up for Steppenwolf once, and the audience chewed me up like meat and threw me out, so I learned something about audiences and survival," he said.

The troubadour knows his audience and gives it what it wants — the hits, both major and minor. From the latter category was If We Try, which was issued on Don McLean, the follow-up album to 1971's smash American Pie.

"Some record company (recently) put (If We Try) on a compilation album called Lost Hits," he explained. "A lot of my hits were lost."

Highlights of the show included the cover songs — Every Day (Buddy Holly), Since I Don't Have You (the Skyliners) — some of the country songs, including a rousing version of Marty Robbins' Singing the Blues, and the artist's standards, especially his acoustic version of And I Love You So.

The second set wound down with McLean's biggest hits, beginning with the remake of Roy Orbison's Crying. He seemed to labor his way through parts of it, but this was what the audience came to hear.

McLean's vocal range is limited, although he did hit all of the high notes on Since I Don't Have You. After a religious ballad, he went into a moving version of Vincent, his tribute to artist Vincent van Gogh. The crowd was so mesmerized that you could have heard a pin drop.

From that, he segued into the finale, American Pie, with the fans singing along. McLean returned for a five-song encore that included Gonna Sit Right Here Until I Die and Why Can't We Just Be Friends?

Like many artists, McLean sells CDs and videos at his concerts, and those who weren't content with just the show got a chance to meet him. After the concert, McLean appeared in the Keswick lobby to sign autographs — a nice touch for somebody who truly appreciates his fans.

This review was published on Nov. 1, 2000, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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