Don McLean performs live at the Ra'anana Ampiteater, June 16, 2018..
(photo credit: YOSSI VAKNIN)
Those among the sold-out crowd at the Ra’anana Amphitheater Saturday night who showed up expecting to encounter a folkie troubadour offering up heartfelt acoustic ballads only got that version of Don McLean a couple of times.
The other Don McLean onstage fronted a hot, Nashville-based band of veteran players who took their cues from Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins in serving up dollops of rockabilly, country and rock & roll, with McLean acting as the 1968 Elvis, setting the driving pace with his acoustic guitar and vocals.
The two McLeans coexisted peacefully, careening from rave ups like Elvis’s “Little Sister” and Marty Robbins’ “You Got Me Singing the Blues” to his own “And I Love You So” and “Crossroads.”
McLean was the consummate professional in presenting his master class of the Great American Songbook. The 72-year-old’s vocals, despite displaying occasional difficulty hitting the high notes – which he chalked up to a recent illness – were strong and sounded like the singer of 45 years ago.
His breezy style, sometimes bordering on Vegas glib, included frequently long, in-between song raps on styles of music, down-home life lessons and his band’s illustrious resumes (including songwriting and studio work with George Jones and Merle Haggard).
Of course the two McLeans bolted the stage near the end of the show when the third McLean showed up, and the crowd, until then enthusiastically receptive in their seats, arose en masse and swarmed the area in front of the stage. “American Pie” was the climax everyone was waiting for and McLean and band didn’t disappoint. It was a cause of celebration and one of those moments that performer and audience fuse as one. When the anthem was over, the crowd was still so riled up that McLean led them through another sing-along of the first verse and chorus.
A double encore featured an exquisite solo rendition of “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” followed by another full-band rockabilly version of the Everly Brothers’ “Rock Right Back” and the 90-minute show was over.
Some fans trudged out of the park bemoaning their favorites not played, like “On the Amazon” or the Israel-friendly “Dreidel” and “Babylon” from his early 1970s albums. But, as a rock & roll revue orchestrated by an early master – who counts among his kindred spirits the likes of Buddy Holly – it was a rollicking fun history lesson.
McLean will be performing again tonight at Reading 3
in Tel Aviv. Tickets are still available.