The Pied Piper and Genghis Khan rolled into one stormed Symphony Hall Tuesday evening and took no prisoners.
Without introduction and receiving cheers of anticipation simply because the lights were turned down, the lean, lithe phenomenon who is Bobby McFerrin stepped onstage with nothing except a cordless microphone, a spotlight and two bottles of Perrier water. When he left one hour and 30 minutes later, the audience was in his pocket.If you've ever heard the range of sounds that come from a magnificent old Wurlitzer organ like the Grand Lake Theater's in Oakland, imagine a man playing his body by flipping switches and changing from saxophone to cello to bass to percussion instrument.
Imagine someone so in tune with the entire spectrum of sound in a song that multiple layers of harmony are kept up with every third or fifth or seventh note sung or hummed.
Imagine an a capella orchestra with one member! If you're overwhelmed trying to grasp this much, add a one-man production of "The Wizard of Oz" and several arrangements of dance and song staged with willing and surprisingly able volunteers from the audience.
It's all incomprehensible unless you can witness him in person.
Shedding his shoes and socks, making himself utterly comfortable on the stage, McFerrin seemed at times to be performing in another world where thousands of people weren't watching.
With a moving gospel song, singing "Keep a inchin' along . . . Jesus will come bye n' bye," McFerrin held the microphone in one hand and with the other on an imaginary bass, keyed the deep notes he dropped in between the melody and words. From a '50s falsetto "Only You" to the accelerating engine roar on "Drive My Car," McFerrin is a four-octave human synthesizer of sound and accompaniment. On the Beatles' "Blackbird" he made the sound of the bird fluttering toward him so real that I ducked with him as he dodged the imaginary bird.
Participatory art took on new meaning as McFerrin played the near-capacity audience - teaching them "twee-dees" and "twee-dahs" to sing on his cue. Soon he had a massive Mitch Miller sing-a-long with intricate scat work delighting all the closet singers. He sat down on the edge of the stage and started a conversation with a little girl named Ione who got her own song sung to her. The song ended whimsically with "shave and a hair cut, six bits," with the audience invited to join if they were fast enough.
But a medley of television theme songs was the big sing-a-long hit. Warming up the warblers with "John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith," McFerrin moved into "Petticoat Junction" and then had fans shouting "Texas tea . . . " at the appropriate moments in the Beverly Hillbillies' theme.
It was clear that McFerrin's hit album "Simple Pleasures" is well-loved among Salt Lakers, as it only took a few bars of the album cuts (including his current nationwide No. 1 hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy") before a roar of recognition would rise in unison from the crowd.
This musician, who can command a solo Carnegie Hall performance and has received five Grammys, returned to Salt Lake City with a triumphant humility that goes deeper than the casual attire and confident demeanor. The man who was fired from a Salt Lake gig because he's black and then evicted from his apartment because he is black and his wife is white, has found a cosmic peace.
"Simple Pleasures" is more than a song about his two little boys, it's a statement about a journey that allows audiences along the way the glimpse of a rare and individualistic man who heard the voice within say, "You are a singer."
And when McFerrin climbed barefoot over six rows of seats in Symphony Hall and requested singers, a shy little boy named Jeremy who doesn't ever sing, climbed right back after him.
If it's true that McFerrin actually prays before each concert to be able to connect with his audience, then prayers really do come true.