Don McLean | Review
Waterfront Hall, Belfast • 07 June 2018
By Chantelle Frampton • Photography: Tremaine Gregg
When people think of Don McLean they likely immediately think of ‘American Pie’ or ‘Vincent’. Whilst there is no denying that these songs are classics, Don McLean is so much more than two big hits. With a career spanning over 40 years, there’s no doubt there was high anticipation for his latest tour. On Thursday night he graced Belfast’s Waterfront Hall and proved to us why he is still a huge name in the music industry.
The night kicked off with Texas singer/songwriter Jarrod Dickenson. Jarrod is no stranger to Belfast and his familiarity with us shone through in his performance. He started his set with ‘Faint of Heart’ accompanied by his wife Claire Ward (who happens to be from Belfast). Their harmonies throughout the performance were mesmerising and created a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. Jarrod’s setlist included a range of his tracks including ‘Prefer to Lose’ and ‘Nothing More’ as well as a beautiful rendition of Guy Clark’s ‘Dublin Blues’. His mixture of American folk music and his continuous banter with the crowd (including a few plugs for his merchandise and new record) made for a perfect start to the evening.
Following a brief break, we were introduced to our main headliner. As the band walked onto the stage and took their places the crowd cheered, and anticipation was rising. Finally, Don McLean sauntered ever so casually onto the stage. He took to his guitar and started his set. He looked so chilled out whilst he was playing and when he was chatting to the crowd. His interaction was rife from the start of the show. He got into the habit of providing short anecdotes about the tracks he was about to play and explaining the memories they evoked.
Throughout the evening we were introduced to a number of McLean’s newer tracks from his latest album Botanical Gardens. Some of these included ‘Beautiful Eyes’, ‘The Lucky Guy’ and the title track. It was refreshing to hear his newer music, especially so soon into the setlist. He proved to us that he can sing his own classics, cover songs as well as new and original tracks. McLean himself said at one point “I’m 72, I can’t believe it… Music keeps me young. It keeps us all young.” He perfectly demonstrated that even though everyone ages, his music is timeless.
Naturally we were also treated to a number of the more well-known tracks that are still so loved today. These included the wonderful ‘And I love you so’ and ‘Castles in the Air’ to which the audience reacted incredibly positively. He created a very immersive type experience in that we were not simply watching a musician regurgitating a setlist; but we were gaining an insight into Don McLean’s life. It was as though we were watching milestones in his career and seeing how each song represents a different experience.
The crowd was loving every minute of it and the reactions to each track were claps and cheers. The songs from the American Pie album seemed to get the biggest reaction. They included ‘Crossroads’, ‘Winterwood’ and of course the title track ‘American Pie’. As soon as the iconic opening of “A long, long time ago” kicked in the crowd went mad. People were singing along, clapping and some even opting to get up and dance. Don’s voice was as flawless as it was in 1971 and a natural finisher to the set.
McLean walked back on stage for the encore to a standing ovation. More than likely, a lot of the crowd was waiting for the beautiful track ‘Vincent’. He did not disappoint and gave us exactly what we wanted. After an evening of flawless music, anecdotes and discovering his love of Irish folk music, I felt like I gained a real insight into his musical career and influences. His frequent references to the changes Belfast has gone through since he first came here and even calling it “The City of Hope” made this gig seem incredibly personal and not just another city off the list.