A Jimmy Buffett concert doesn’t change a lot from one tour to the next, yet nothing about his shows is routine.
Saturday night, Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band visited the Sprint Center, where they gave a sell-out crowd of 16,500 the usual: two hours of high-octane entertainment.
The concert was preceded by Parrot Fest, an all-day gathering of Buffett fans in the Power & Light District. A large portion of the crowd looked as if it had spent some time at that event getting primed for the concert.
Most of them were in place at 7 p.m., when Buffett introduced Huey Lewis and the News. They were an ideal opener for the Buffett crowd: loaded with grooves and in a party mood.
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Their lively one-hour set included most of their biggest hits plus a few covers, including a spot-on version of J.J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright.”
Buffett took the stage dressed in his signature concert fashion: T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, which he would later shed. Much of his music is nuts-and-bolts rock or folk, but his 11-person Coral Reefer Band performs it with precision and flair.
They opened with a few for the diehards. First, “Ragtop Day,” from the “Riddles in the Sand” album, then a couple of novelty songs: the title track from the “Fruitcakes” album and “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don’t Love Jesus.”
Buffett is a master showman and storyteller: funny, self-deprecating, charming. Before “My Head Hurts,” he described a bar called the Old Anchor Inn as a place to be wary. The floorboards are split, and if you slipped through you’d “fall straight to hell.” That song included sweet solos by Doyle Grisham on pedal steel and John Lovell on trumpet.
“Come Monday” is one of Buffett’s best songs, and more than 40 years after he recorded it, he still sings it like he feels it. He followed that with two more popular songs: “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” featuring Buffett on 12-string guitar, then his duet with Alan Jackson, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” which stirred some mayhem.
Before that song, he strapped on his favorite six string and gave a shoutout to luthier Jim Triggs, a Kansas Citian who made the guitar. Mac McAnally sang Jackson’s part on “Five O’Clock”; he would later sing Zac Brown’s part on “Knee Deep.”
The crowd was on its feet and in orbit through much of the show, singing along to nearly every song. On “Fins,” from the floor to the rafters, the arena was a tide of fans waving back and forth, in unison, arms held high with hands pressed together, in the rudimentary shape of a fin. The place shook even harder during the singalong to “Margaritaville.”
Buffett took a breather once, during the steel drum medley by Robert Greenidge, which also featured some nice trumpet filigrees from Lovell.
Religion — Buffett’s version of it, anyway — was invoked a couple of times. He introduced “Bank of Bad Habits” as something from the “Church of Buffett.” Before “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” he told the crowd, “This counts as church if you don’t make it tomorrow.”
He closed his first set with one of his best and most unheralded songs, the poetic “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” Then came a boisterous cover of Crosby Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross,” another sailing song, which launched another a hearty singalong and rekindled the party mood.
The encore started with “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” Then came a tribute to B.B. King: “Last Man Standing,” which featured lead vocals from Nadirah Shakoor, one of Buffett’s two background singers.
For his finale, Buffett went back to the early 1970s and another of his more poetic songs, “He Went to Paris,” a tragic tale about a guy who retires to an island after losing his family to war: “Now he lives in the islands, fishes the pilin’s / And drinks his green label each day / He’s writing his memoirs and losing his hearing / But he don’t care what most people say.”
It’s also a song Buffett had not performed before in Kansas City. He gave it the acoustic treatment, with some light accompaniment from McAnally and Greenidge. And on a night loaded with redeemed expectations, it was the rare surprise, a pleasant and poignant one.
Jimmy Buffett: Ragtop Day; Fruitcakes; My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus; Come Monday; Son of a Son of a Sailor; It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere; Blue Guitar; Volcano; Workin’ and Playin’; Fins; Margaritaville; steel drum medley; Wonder Why We Ever Go Home; Knee Deep; Cheeseburger in Pardise; Why Don’t We Get Drunk; Bama Breeze; Bank of Bad Habits; Jolly Mon Sing; A Pirate Looks at Forty; Southern Cross; One Particular Harbour. Encore: Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitudes; Last Man Standing; He Went to Paris.
Huey Lewis: The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll; If This Is It; I Want a New Drug; The Rhythm Ranch; Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um; Back in Time; Heart and Soul; But It’s Alright; We’re Not Here for a Long Time (We’re Here for a Good Time). Encore:The Power of Love; Workin’ for a Livin’.