Warren Zevon could be happy. He's got a new record deal and an album coming out in a few months, and a new sitcom (Fox's "Action") uses one of his tunes as its theme. But during Friday's show at the State Theatre, Zevon was as bitter and cynical as his fans remembered, and wanted, him to be. "Mr. Bad Example," indeed.
Though his well-deserved glory days are two decades past, Zevon's fans have kept him out of the where-are-they-now bin with an unquenchable thirst for the same old stuff. But even in front of the sold-out house, Zevon couldn't hide how much he misses being considered critically vital. Early in his set, he whined about having never been properly compensated financially for his craft. He also complained that the biggest moneymaker of his career, 1976's "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," is and always was "a piece of [junk]."
He played the tune again anyway, and when the crowd roared its approval, he looked more contemptuous than appreciative. The chorus of the new "Volunteer," a song about a lovelorn and untalented magician, shows Zevon can still forge a clever couplet: "I can make love and disappear/ For my next trick I'll need a volunteer." That tune garnered only a polite round of applause.
Though he dropped the names of his old pals and songwriting partners, like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and even R.E.M., Zevon did so only half-heartedly, aware that those associations don't rate many cool points anymore. Obsolescence also plagued the pop-culture references in many of Zevon's best-received offerings. Poking fun at Patty Hearst ("Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner"), Liza Minnelli ("Detox Mansion") and the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash ("Play It All Night Long") hardly has the edge it once did. Before taking one last look at his watch and leaving the stage, Zevon led a theater-wide sing-along of another blast from the past, "Lawyers, Guns and Money"--themes Zevon can carry with him into the millennium.