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Live review: Jimmy Webb at Largo at the Coronet

August 26, 2010 |  2:39 pm

The veteran songwriter mixes recent tunes with tales of his vaunted past.

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A quick synopsis of any Richard Harris movie, according to Jimmy Webb, goes like this: He plays the king. He yells a lot. He dies at the end.

That was one of many showbiz-related revelations Webb offered up Wednesday night at Largo at the Coronet, where the veteran songwriter behind such indelible ’60s-era hits as “Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park” performed in support of a new studio album, “Just Across the River.”

Perhaps “in support of” isn’t quite right. Although it did include a number of tunes featured on “Just Across the River” — which pairs the headliner with celebrity pals such as Vince Gill, Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt — Webb’s rambling cabaret-style show had more to do with his star-studded life than with his well-respected work. Several times he promised to keep his between-song banter to a minimum, then launched into an anecdote even longer than the last one.

To some extent, of course, this was an exercise in self-flattery: No one who tells you about drinking his way across Ireland with Harris can claim he’s not looking to impress you with his proximity to cool. But given the proudly unpolished quality of Webb’s singing, his colorful exegeses were also what made Wednesday’s concert such a low-key delight; they provided juicy background in a show for which the primary material had been more or less squeezed dry.

Before he played “Wichita Lineman,” Webb recalled watching Joel publicly deconstruct the composition at a Songwriters Hall of Fame event, and the story reminded you that even the most ingrained of cultural artifacts begins as a leap into the unknown. Elsewhere he admitted to writing “Campo de Encino” in order to appease Harry Nilsson, who’d complained that all of Webb’s songs were too sad. And he jokingly introduced “Up, Up and Away,” his fluffy 1967 hit for the 5th Dimension, as evidence that he’d been overlooked as one of that era’s political rabble-rousers.

During a lengthy reminiscence of his collaboration with Frank Sinatra, Webb acknowledged that his youthful arrogance had prevented him from paying the proper respect toward the older songwriters Sinatra introduced him to guys like Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn, whose creations he later came to value.

There’s little doubt that pop’s current breed of chart kings — Dr. Luke and RedOne and Bruno Mars, for example — would do the same to Webb; that’s how generation gaps work. Yet at Largo Webb seemed untroubled by the idea that many of his songs have become relics. Even with a fresh project to promote, he kept his focus firmly on the past.

--Mikael Wood

Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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