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Concert Review: Webb, McGovern play spirited show

April 14, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • Jimmy Webb.
Jimmy Webb. (Joseph Sinnott )

Last summer in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Summer at the Center program, which provides musical training for at-risk teenagers, the instructor taught the class a medley of songs with wordless choruses: "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and the like.

If the program needs additional help this summer, perhaps Ms. McGovern can step in as the cool new teacher.

McGovern — Maureen, that is — delivered a wordless tour de force Saturday at the center's Samueli Theater, where she played a three-night engagement with singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb. Midway through her set, the Grammy nominee and Broadway star noted jokingly that 1960s songwriters sometimes had trouble articulating their thoughts in language, and proceeded to plow through sections of "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow," "Blue Moon," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and others.

Considering how lyric-heavy the night was on the whole — Webb, after all, wrote "MacArthur Park," which both he and McGovern sang in their individual sets — the cavalcade of bom-boms and deet-deet-deets served as a reminder that before music can provoke verbally, it must start as joyous, or cathartic, noise.

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The performance by Webb and McGovern, who joined for duets at the end, was high on joy, as both headliners joked, told stories and delivered spirited renditions. With just a piano — played by Jeff Harris for McGovern's set, then by Webb himself — for accompaniment, the show fit snugly into the cabaret-like confines of the Samueli Theater, where small tables occupy the floor below the stage as well as balconies above.

Of the two, Webb came off as more of a natural small-venue performer. His voice was more ragged than McGovern's, and his conversational style made the occasional roughness of his renditions fit in smoothly. For the first half of his set, the talk almost overwhelmed the music, as he delved into lengthy stories about meeting Frank Sinatra, dealing with Richard Harris' eccentricities and forging a partnership with Art Garfunkel after the singer's split with Paul Simon.

When Webb came to "Worst That Could Happen," he made the most of his nearness to the audience, assigning different sections of the room to sing parts of the harmony. The crowd had trouble mastering the rhythm, but when the song ended, Webb gamely called out, "Thanks for being good sports."

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