About halfway through Jimmy Webb’s sold-out show at Germano’s last night, he was sitting at the piano playing “Galveston”—the tune made famous by Glen Campbell in the late 1960s—and a line in the last verse jumped out at me: “I am so afraid of dying.” I’ve heard the song dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times, and that key line always escaped me. I guess it was lost amidst Campbell’s cheery disposition and the tune’s swelling orchestration, but last night I heard it. In fact, I heard Webb’s songs as never before.
Over the course of a generous and expansive set (with a brief intermission), Webb underscored the pathos at the heart of his material and exhibited dazzling skills as a pianist and storyteller. Songs such as “The Highwayman,” “If These Walls Could Speak,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” never sounded better, as Webb infused them with nuanced intent, full emotional range, and a sparkling musicality.
And he punctuated the set with great stories about Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt (who produced Webb’s Suspending Disbelief album with Baltimore native George Massenburg), Johnny Maestro, and Frank Sinatra. I loved his bit about visiting Sinatra’s house for the first time. As Webb was about to ring the doorbell, he noticed a small sign under it that read, “You better have a goddamn good reason for ringing this bell.”
That got a good laugh, but the night was, overall, a testament to seriously good, well-composed pop music. At one point, Webb extolled the virtues of “songs that insist on being heard,” and his songs still do exactly that—as last night’s show and a new CD, Just Across the River, prove.
Webb returns to Germano’s tonight, and I hear there are a few tickets left.
[grainy image by j.l.]