Don McLean Charms the Auckland Town Hall, May 9, 2023

Don McLean

Don McLean closed out his “The Day The Music Died Final Farewell Tour” in Auckland giving us a chance to say “Bye Bye” to the guy who wrote American Pie.

Don McLeanIt’s been over 50 years since that iconic song was released and McLean is now 77 year old, so time to hang up those touring boots…although he plans to still play shows, just not long, worldwide tours apparently.

As evidence of that changing of the guard I realized the last time I was at a show at Auckland’s Town Hall was just last week when Australian pop star Ruel performed here and it seemed the entire audience was under 20. Tonight, it looks like everyone is over 60 (apologies to any 50-year-olds in the crowd).

Simon Thompson

With another storm raging outside and flood warning once again popping up on our phone, the evening got started early with opening act Simon Thompson on stage by 7:05 (doors Simon Thompsonwere advertised opening at 7pm).

Simon (an Auckland native) now lives in Invercargill and playing in a band down there. Here he was solo acoustic. The 38-year old played a set of covers designed to appeal to the grey-haired crowd including songs (or “tracks” as he called them) by Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and John Denver. He opened with James Reyne’s Reckless and closed with a tune of his own titled I Knew.

Thompson has a fine voice and an engaging stage manner but it seemed to me the promotors could have found someone to open that had something more original to say. In fact, I ran into Auckland singer Vikae after the show and thought she would have been interesting as an opening act.

Don McLean

 Don McLean

I have seen Don McLean a number of times, dating back to 1976, and I keep coming back because of the songs. McLean is not a great vocalist, and at his age, he’s not getting any better, but the songs have aged very well.

As anyone who has analysed the lyrics to American Pie knows, McLean has a deep love of the music of the late 1950s and early 60s. Tonight’s show began with a cover of a relatively rare Buddy Holly tune called Fool’s Paradise. Other covers sprinkled throughout the set included Little Sister (Elvis), Sleep Walk (Santo & Johnny), Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash) and Walk Right Back (Everly Brothers)

Don McLean

 

The best of the bunch was a heartfelt tribute to Gordon Lightfoot in the form of a version of If You Could Read My Mind, the worst was McLean’s attempt to go all Frank Sinatra on us with Last Night When We Were Young. That travesty was followed by Crying, which wasn’t much better. I know Don had a hit with his version of it back in ’78, but someone should tell him that it’s time to put that one to bed.

That was followed by a rather pointless version of Tulsa Time and it looked like he was losing the audience.

A rocking version of Dreidel picked things up as did Not Fade Away and a new song called American Boys Invented Rock & Roll.

Things were looking up.

Don McLeanBut then Mr. McLean decided to sit down and have a grumpy old man moment, ranting about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and reading a section of George Orwell’s 1984 before reading his own “be-bop poem” accompanied by bassist Kevin Key.

That’s not what we came for and the audience was noticeably squirming in their seats.

But yet again, McLean pulled out of this potential plane wreck with “a very famous song”, Vincent followed by Castles In The Air, and suddenly he was back in our good graces.

The two-hour set headed to the finish line with another new tune, a minor-key beauty called Marley’s Song (Save Yourself)  followed by the aforementioned Lightfoot and Cash covers.

Don McLean

Then we all got up to dance as we heard “long, long time ago” and suddenly we were in rock and roll heaven.

A couple of complaints…I would have liked to hear more of McLean’s own songs…deeper cuts like Winter Has Me In Its Grip, Homeless Brother and Everybody Loves Me Baby...and fewer covers. The band was good, featuring guitarists Vip Vipperman and Kerry Marx and longtime keyboard player Tony Migliori, but the sound was a bit muddy at times…particularly a the beginning.

I’ve heard American Pie hundreds, if not thousands, of times, I know (almost) every word (ask my kids) and still enjoy it as much as I first did more than 50 years ago.

Back then, I was “a teenage broncin’ buck”, now I’m just looking for some happy news.

And watching Don McLean sing American Pie one last time certainly put a smile on my and everyone else’s face at the Auckland Town Hall.

Marty Duda

Click any icon to view a full gallery of photos of Don McLean and Simon Thompson. All photos copyright Veronica McLaughlin Photography

Don McLean
Simon Thompson
Don McLean Setlist:
  1. Fool’s Paradise
  2. Botanical Gardens
  3. And I Love You So
  4. Little Sister
  5. The Lucky Guy
  6. Sleep Walk
  7. Thunderstorm Girl
  8. Crossroads
  9. Last Night When We Were Young
  10. Crying
  11. Tulsa Time
  12. Headroom
  13. Dreidel
  14. Not Fade Away
  15. American Boys Invented Rock & Roll
  16. A Be-Bop Poem
  17. Vincent
  18. Castles In The Air
  19. Marley’s Song (Save Yourself)
  20. If You Could Read My Mind
  21. Folsom Prison Blues
  22. American Pie
  23. Walk Right Back
Marty Duda
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