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Live review: Jimmy Webb at Largo at the Coronet

January 29, 2009 |  5:48 pm

Jimmywebb It requires a fair amount of chutzpah for any singer to take on songs that have been definitively recorded by  Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel and James Taylor -- even if that singer happens to have written those songs.

Fortunately, songwriter extraordinaire Jimmy Webb showed no deficit of nerve Wednesday night at Largo at the Coronet as he ran through nearly two hours' worth of some of the most  elegantly crafted compositions of the last half-century.

Webb knows he's not going to outdo Glen Campbell's stylish versions of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman," recordings that brought Campbell to prominence in the late 60s, or top the outsized dramatics of Richard Harris' rendition of Webb's epic "MacArthur Park."

"When I started out, I was absolutely awful," the 62-year-old from Elk City, Okla., once said. "I had no voice, I didn't have a lot of stage presence, and most of the intensity that I brought to the experience was actually terror."

Even today, his voice is more serviceable than scintillating. But he brought loads of stage presence -- and plenty of between-song banter -- to his first L.A. performance in about a decade. He set up "All I Know," which gave Garfunkel his first solo hit after he parted ways with Paul Simon, with a lively tale of the pain he felt when he picked up a copy of Rolling Stone and spotted the headline "Simon & Garfunkel -- Splitsville."

His initial sadness was quickly ameliorated when it occurred to him that one of the great singers of the '60s was now cut off from his font of pop songs. He still sounded tickled recounting how Sinatra always introduced  him as "the wonderful kid Jimmy Webb" whenever he sang one of his songs in concert.

The first time he was invited to meet the Chairman of the Board at his home in Hollywood, he couldn't help being intimidated by the sign above the doorbell: "You better have a damn good reason for ringing this bell."

With perfect comic timing, he said he paused before pushing it. "I had a good reason, but . . . . "

Accompanying himself at the piano, Webb enriched his songs  with complex chord changes. And he filled out the classics that dominated the night with the likes of "What Does a Woman See in a Man," a witty number from his 1992 musical, "Instant Intimacy."

Webb had no trouble getting the audience to pipe in with high notes that were beyond his reach in "Up, Up and Away," the song that earned six Grammy Awards in 1968. They also chimed in as background chorus on "Adios," another in his long string of songs on the topic he made his specialty:  the sweet sorrow of lovers parting.

The L.A. transplant said he chose the set list with the City of Angels in mind, and the locale couldn't have been more apparent than in the song Ronstadt sang so beautifully:

Our dreams of endless summer
Were just too grandiose
I'll miss the blood-red sunset
But I'll miss you the most
Adios

The audience seemed to share the feeling when Webb left the stage. With any luck, it won't be another decade before a return engagement.

--randy.lewis@latimes.com

(Photo by Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)

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