Warren Zevon finds singular success with solo tour

May 17, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

As Warren Zevon sees it, his job description is fairly simple: "Write 10 pop songs and record 'em."

That's what he's been doing, on a more or less steady basis, since 1976. And he's been relatively successful at it, too. He cracked the Top 40 with "Werewolves of London" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" (though the latter hit came courtesy of Linda Ronstadt), and churning out a steady stream of sardonic rockers, the best of which bear blood-and-guts titles like "Boom Boom Mancini" or "Lawyers, Guns and Money."

But like anyone who works the same job year in and year out, Zevon was looking for a change in his routine, and after finishing with his 1991 album, "Mr. Bad Example," he got an idea.

"I knew that I wasn't in the frame of mind to sit down and write 10 more pop songs -- because that's what I did for a living -- and record 'em with no other motivation but that it's what I do for a living," he says, over the phone from a New York hotel. "I wanted to do something beside that, and write a few songs for some other reason.

"I thought it would be fun to do a solo tour. And maybe if I did a solo tour, I could travel more. I could go, obviously, to more and farther places than I could afford to take a band. And it seemed like it might be a nice idea to record it."

So he did, the result being his current album, "Learning to Flinch." Recorded at clubs and concert halls scattered across the globe, it mixes a baker's dozen of his best-known oldies with new tunes like "Piano Fighter" and "The Indifference of Heaven." And in the process, it shows that Zevon can play 'em just as well as he writes 'em.

Not that he thinks so, mind you. "I guess I feel like I've always been a straddler, you know?" he says. "A songwriter being half bad poet and half composer. And then I play piano and guitar, more or less equally and neither one of them like the guitarists and the pianists that I know. I always feel that there's something primitive about my musicianship."

He also frets over his ballads. It isn't that he has trouble writing them; in fact, he's quite good at slow-and-stirring melodies. It's the performing end that bothers him.

"I've never felt that I was really too good at singing that kind of song," he says. "I've always tried to explain to people that it wasn't just a taste for bloodshed that made me write the kind of things I did, so much as it was a feeling that I was good in that role, you know? Better at the sheriff than the romantic lead."

Despite his insecurities, Zevon is capable of some stunning performances. For instance, there's his version of "Hasten Down the Wind," from "Learning to Flinch." Even though he lacks the sort of vocal firepower Linda Ronstadt brought to the song, his PTC performance cuts to the heart of its melody and sentiment, bringing the words and music to life in a way no one else could.

"I think that was recorded here in New York at Town Hall, and I was feeling considerable pressure because I wanted to get a track from this respectable venue," he says with a self-mocking chuckle. "I think it was the point in the set at which I went to the piano, and it was a beautiful, beautiful piano. And it just took over, it really drew me in. I forgot about all the other considerations."

But if that song was saved by a good piano, Zevon lives in constant dread of having to deal with the other kind. "Did you notice the title of the album?" he says of "Learning to Flinch." "When people want the

broad, metaphorical, poetic definition of the title, I refer 'em to the subject of road pianos. And also backstage deli trays.

A5 "But those can be bypassed -- unlike the pianos."

Warren Zevon

When: 8 tonight

Where: Max's on Broadway

Tickets: $17.50

PD Call: (410) 675-6297 for information; (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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