THE MIGHTY SPARROW at Harbourfront Centre, August 4. Tickets: free. Attendance: capacity. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
When I told my grandmother and mother (both from Trinidad and Tobago) that I saw the Mighty Sparrow at Harbourfront Centre last Friday, they said the same thing: "Isn't he dead?"
Grandma used to rock out to Sparrow on Trini radio in the 50s, so her and her daughter's blunt reactions to the Calypsonian blast from the past were justified.
But after witnessing the 71-year-old Calypso King of the World get down on it for about 90 minutes straight at T-dot's most magical outdoor summer venue, I can tell them with absolute certainty that Slinger Francisco is alive and doing quite well.
The bald-pated Sparrow was something of a blur due to the shimmy he maintained from the get-go, when Isaac Hayes-style congas rolled out a musical red carpet. By song three, he'd taken it to the next level, adding vigorous pelvic thrusts to choreography that was, he cheekily observed in his melodious accent, "not bad for an old man." The wall-to-water crowd flipped.
As if weren't enough that his genre demands every song become a 15-minute jam-out, Sparrow spiced up his concert further with good-natured Trinidadian jokes about confessing to his doc that he's losing his memory ("How long has what been happening to me?") and an off-colour anecdote about meeting Tiger Woods ("There's no way you'll see me playing with white balls").
Natch, the six-piece band, horns and all, was tighter than djembe drum goatskin. Keyed-up extenda-mixes of bona fide classics like May May, Saltfish and of course Jean And Dinah all kept chugging along, supported by the Mighty one's spirited yo-yo-yo-ing and yee-haw-ing; after each song he got low and lifted his hands victoriously.
In an about-face that was just as welcome as his other songs, Sparrow transitioned from his rugged, boisterous tenor to a smooth baritone to deliver Sinatra's favourite Paul Anka ditty, My Way.
"I can't sing it as good as Frank, but I'll do it my way," he said during the chorus. But as the genuinely touching rendition sailed out over the water, I thought he should really give himself more credit.