“I don’t know what tour this is,” Jimmy Buffett said after he walked on stage Tuesday night at the Belly Up Tavern with his band, the Coral Reefers. “But we’re starting here.”
Buffett is, of course, no stranger to San Diego or the intimate Belly Up.
He and his seven-man, two-woman group performed at the same Solana Beach nightclub in 2013. And, back in the early 1980s - before he became an American pop-culture institution for a generation that favors tropical cocktails and attire - he sometimes sat in at the Belly Up with the band Billy & The Beaters.
During that same time period back then, Buffett periodically would sing, unannounced, at such North County nightspots as the Albatross and the Triton (now the Beach House). Richard Davis, his audio engineer for the past quarter-century, used to be the sound mixer at the Belly Up.
“We stole him away!” a smiling Buffett said. “He’s back tonight.”
With his new theatrical work, the Broadway-bound “Escape to Margaritaville - The Musical,” set to begin previews May 9 at La Jolla Playhouse, Buffett may well become a temporary fixture here. (It opens May 29 and runs through June 18, although an extension is possible if “Escape” fares as well at the box office as Buffett and playhouse honchos hope it will.)
Prior to Tuesday’s Belly Up show, Buffett had attended the first rehearsal of his musical, which is being directed by Christopher Ashley with a book by Mike O’Malley and Greg Garcia. With unmistakable pride, he referenced the musical several times at the Belly Up.
Announced last Wednesday, barely two hours before it went on sale, his Tuesday night Belly Up show sold out in less than a minute.
That was great news for the lucky 600 fans who were able to score tickets for the all-general-admission show, but not for the approximately 7,000 others who tried - and failed.
Here’s what they missed.
1. A long, long wait to get in
At least for the most devoted fans, who began lining up at 6 p.m. Monday night - 26 hours before the concert’s scheduled start time. “Ah, a quiet night at the Belly Up,” said Buffett, in response to the roar of welcome he received from the revved up audience.
2. A 19-song performance that clocked in at 95 minutes
It opened with “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and concluded with a spirited romp through Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Some of the highlights included the bluegrass-tinged versions of Buffett’s “Gypsies in the Palace” and the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” the mass audience sing-along on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Southern Cross” and Buffett’s amusingly literal physical interpretations of the lyrics to his perpetually sizzling rave-up, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
3. A disappointment
4. A preview, of sorts, of “Escape to Margaritaville - The Musical”
After performing a tender version of “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” Buffet said: “It’s a big honor to be doing a musical. I had the thought: ‘If you’re going to do a musical, you should probably do songs people know.’ I’m not giving away secrets, but this is in the show.” With that, be broke into the wistful ballad “Come Monday,” adding the line “at the Belly Up.”
5. A pre-tour warm-up show
Tuesday night’s concert was precisely that, as Buffett and his ace band - who last performed exactly two months ago in Oklahoma - knocked the rust off and got their music lubricated again (if not nearly as lubricated as some of his fans at the Belly Up). That may explain why his singing was flat in places and why Buffett, who turned 70 on Christmas Day, used a TelePrompTer at times to help him remember some of the lyrics. “I think we’re warmed up now!” he declared, 16 minutes before the concert ended. He was right.
6. Cleanup on aisle 1
The Belly Up on Tuesday had the stickiest bar floor this writer has encountered in several decades of attending shows there. Then again, no one ever said Buffett’s fans don’t take his songs about drinking to heart.
Twitter @georgevarga; firstname.lastname@example.org