If I ever get around to starting my own religion it will be based on three basic tenets:
Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.
Worrying about what other people think of you is a waste of energy.
And most importantly:
You are required to see Warren Zevon whenever he comes to town.
Zevon is one of the best songwriters of my generation. I don't mean one of the top fifty, I mean one of the top three. "Excitable Boy" is a perfect album, one of the best ever made. He's never been able to top it, but he comes damn close with his latest, "Life'll Kill Ya."
Last Sunday (3/12/00) he performed at Valentine's, a dumpy bar in Albany, NY, for about two hundred and fifty people. After an opening act that wasn't bad, but whose name I've already forgotten, Warren came out, picked up his guitar, and smiled at the audience. I've seen him a half dozen times, and he always seemed just a little pissed about having to perform. This time he looked healthy and relaxed, two words never before used to describe him. He was pleased to be on stage.
He opened with "I Was In The House When The House Burned Down," a song from his new CD, and immediately followed it with a heartfelt "Mr. Bad Example." The moment he hit the first chord, a drunken blond in a red dress started hopping up and down at near front of the stage, hooting at the top of her lungs and spinning her arms over her head. She looked like an orangutan trying to show off at a rave, but wasn't as attractive. After listening to her yelps for several songs another woman began yelling at her to shut up. Zevon, who seemed both amused and annoyed with Orangutan Woman, flashed an evil grin and said "What would Jerry Springer Do?" He picked up his mike stand and held it out, offering the mike to the Complaining Woman. She told Orangutan, over the sound system, "I just want you to shut the fuck up so I can hear the show." Then he held the mike out to Orangutan Woman, who said something stupid like "I just love you Warren." Back to Complaining Woman, "Just shut the fuck up or I'm going to kick your ass!" All of us who were standing nearby were rooting for Complaining Woman. Warren played them against each other for another minute or so, then said "I've got just the song for you," and sang "Hostage-O," a sweet, gentle little bondage song. ("I can see me bound and gagged, Dragged behind a clownmobile..")
A few songs later Orangutan left her spot, and the crowd closed up quickly, making sure she couldn't elbow her way back. We didn't see her for the rest of the show. Unfortunately her spot was taken by a dork wearing a President of The United States Of America cap who wasn't quite as obnoxious, but came close. At every break in the music he had to scream out a request for "For My Next Trick." Maybe there was something weird about that spot in the floor. (In the interest of brevity, we'll simply refer to this loser as The Dork for the rest of this review.)
When someone asked, "Where's your next gig?" Warren replied, "The Pepsi Arena, with all 27 of you." That was his first reference to a local landmark - every show contains at least two. He usually does one within the first twenty minutes of his act, and then later sticks a local reference into "Werewolves of London." At one of his past shows he sang a "Werewolves of Cohoes" verse, at another it was "Werewolves of Latham." This time the werewolf was "Walking down Wolf Road in the Rain." (Wolf Road is a well-known area thoroughfare, heavily populated by retail stores.)
He alternated between old songs and songs from his new album, doing four or five tunes on the guitar, then a few on the piano, then back to the guitar. He's always been a master at using the digital delay to enhance his guitar playing. First he plays a few bars of backup chords into the box, then plays lead over the playback loop. He does it so smoothly you don't realize what he's doing unless you're very close to the stage and watching for it. His lead work was a little sloppy for this show - not bad, but not quite as tight as he's been on past gigs. About half way through the show he did a long version of "Jeannie Needs a Shooter," one of his worst songs. I can only guess he's tired of some of his hits and wanted to play lead on something a little different.
He's added some new riffs to a few of his piano tunes, most noticeably Excitable Boy. He attacked the keyboard, mixing the old music with the new. When he looked up and saw The Dork holding a cell phone over his head he shouted "This is for you in cell phone land!" The Dork was delighted.
The songs from his new CD, "Life'll Kill Ya," are great. They're tight and punchy and pissy and funny, full of lines like "I can saw a woman in two, but you won't want to look in the box when I'm through." A younger Warren could never have written "My Shit's Fucked Up," or "Don't Let Us Get Sick," songs complaining and laughing about the deterioration that accompanies getting older. "Porcelain Monkey" is the tale of yet another wonderful loser who stupidly blows it all. (It may take a few listens before you recognize who he's talking about. If you still don't get it, look up the words sobriquet and regicidal.) Just about all the songs have the bite and vinegar we love. I've been reading fan reviews of the CD, and the most common theme expressed is "Finally, Warren is back!" Yes he is. It's been a long wait, but our patience has finally been rewarded.
At the end of the concert he said "I could do the whole star thing, where I leave the stage for ten minutes and pretend I'm not coming back, but let's just skip it, because there's nowhere to go to and nothing to do there." He thanked everyone, including his assistant and sound-man, who he had been speaking Greek with earlier in the show. This inspired The Dork to start yelling "You can't leave, your ride's not here, you can't leave, your ride's not here, you can't leave, your ride's not here," etc. (At the beginning of the show, after the opener had left but before Warren came on, The Dork was yelling, "He's late because he can't find a ride," over and over.) I shouted at him "If it wasn't funny the fifth time, it won't be funny the fifteenth time," but it didn't sink into his brain cell. One of the guys I was with, exasperated with this idiot, yelled "Warren, how do you say asshole in Greek?" Warren laughed and repeated the question. "What? How do you say asshole in Greek? Heh heh heh, don't get me started."
He finished the show with "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" segued into "Lawyers Guns and Money," and as the last chord faded he looked over at The Dork and said "Well?" The Dork looked confused. Again Warren asked "Well?" Still no response. Warren shrugged, looked out at the audience, and said "I've got to go, my ride is here."
His official page is www.warrenzevon.com. (Don't expect much, it's not too impressive.)
Here's a review of "Life'll Kill Ya" in The Village Voice, and a brief review of the concert by the guy who asked Warren how to say asshole in Greek. Scroll down to his March 13th entry to read it.
© 2000 Dave Hitt
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