Fun With Warren Zevon
Author: Criag MacInnis
Publication: Toronto Star
Date: November 28, 1988
Abstract: A review of a Zevon show - Schmit is a member of his backing band.
Any kind of Warren Zevon show is better than no Warren Zevon at all.
The veteran California songwriter dropped into the Diamond last night for a folksy, shirtsleeve set of old favorites, old blues and cheery cover songs.
"Our goal here is to have a good time," he told the capacity crowd, adding that his small-scale club tour with bassist Timothy B. Schmit and guitarist Dan Dugmore was a way of "preventing the inevitable, inexorable slide into Las Vegas ."
It seems unlikely that Zevon will ever succumb to the slick, spangled artifice that is Vegas. With his tongue firmly in cheek, he remains one of his generation's roughest pop romantics and - in his own idiosyncratic way - one of its truest troubadors.
Etched with cynicism but lightened by a mordant, surrealist wit, Zevon's best songs are lurid treatises on the human condition. But forget pyschology. Last night was for the sheer fun of it, beginning as it did with the visceral pleasures of "Drop Down Mama" and seguing into "Boom Boom Mancini", his ode to the former lightweight boxing champion.
Without a drummer to anchor the attack, Zevon's trio settled instead for acoustic realism, led by Dugmore's beautiful dobro and steel guitar licks, which added a lustrous elegance to a first-rate version of "Carmelita".
With Schmit's vocal harmonies rising up in the close, graceful manner he perfected during his years with the country-rock group Poco, "Carmelita" became a homely, gorgeous dirge - better, more fervent, than the 1976 recording.
"Frank And Jesse James" and "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded", two other numbers from Zevon's seminal debut album, were lent a rustic vigor and a playful chippiness that reinvented the songs without damaging their feel.
"Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner", delivered with just the right shade of ironic menace, gave way to a rambunctious piano solo by Zevon that ranged from classical to boogie before trailing off into a hushed, subdued lyricism.
A new number, "Networking" (which he told the crowd he had recently recorded at Prince's Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis ) offered Zevon at his quiet, subversive best. A broadside of L.A. 's "let's-do-lunch" society, the ballad proved the singer still has something to say and the means with which to say it.
His voice has never been strong in the conventional sense, but its thick heft manages to find the humor and/or portent that reside in the lyrics, to say nothing of the beauty.
In keeping with the tour's anything-goes manifesto, the trio never lingered too long over any one motif, mixing heartfelt ballads like "Hasten Down The Wind" with old Robert Johnson blues standards and the like.
By the time he returned for an encore of "What's New Pussycat?", followed by "Lawyers, Guns And Money" and a jokey, localized "Werewolves Of Toronto ( London )", Zevon had indeed delivered on his promise. Fun.