Aftermath is a child of the 70's, graduating from high school during our country's bicentennial year. The last half of that decade, our patron saint of teen angst was Jackson Browne - even in our punk-rock heyday, Jackson was our go-to guy when we really wanted to brood. His first five records remain some of our favorite music on the planet, and we looked forward to reliving some memories at the Verizon. When we found our seat and realized we were sitting directly behind Larry Dierker (the greatest Astro), we knew it was going to be a special night. Jackson ambled on with no fanfare about 7:35 p.m., sat down, plugged in his guitar and launched into one his better later songs, "Barricades of Heaven." This guy looks 10 years younger than us and we're 10 years younger than he is! We suspect ol' Scratch may be involved, even though Browne's activism and his exhortations during the first set to do various right things point to him working for the good guys. His voice shows a bit more age than his face. There's a huskiness there that wasn't there before, but it mellowed a bit as he got warmed up.
Browne said after the first song that he was working without a set list, and that he would be playing whatever he and (maybe) the crowd wanted. He then launched into one of his classics, "These Days," using Tom Rush's arrangement rather than the one that appears on his own For Everyman. It was absolutely gorgeous, the huskiness in Browne's voice adding poignancy to lyrics articulating a young man's despair. Aftermath got the feeling that nothing had changed for the protagonist over the years. Browne followed this with two songs by his old friend Warren Zevon, "Don't Let Us Get Sick" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money."
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Browne's activism was much in evidence during the first set, as he spent time between songs talking about Cuba, plastic in the oceans and AIDS, but it never felt oppressive, probably because he was also delivering songs like "Rock Me on the Water" and "Sky Blue and Black" like he was singing them for the first time. Requests peppered him throughout the set, some acknowledged some ignored. When a request for "Cocaine" rang out, Browne said "If I do it, I have to sing the rehab version - and you don't look like you want to hear the rehab version." He then slyly launched into his ode to hashish from his first album "Something Fine." He sang, "You say Morocco and it makes me smile," and it did.
After a short intermission, Browne returned to the stage with the title track from 1973's Everyman. Then it got a little weird. A volley of requests echoed through the hall, and of course, IT reared it's head. "Free Bird!", a voice cried. Browne grimaced, said "you better watch out" and called guitar tech Manny Alvarez to join him onstage a full version of "Free Bird" delivered wholly without irony. The second set was even looser than the first, and focused on the personal rather than the political. Browne delivered moving versions of classics like "Doctor My Eyes", "Fountain of Sorrow" and "Late For The Sky" and the crowd (rightly) ate them up. A late request for "Take It Easy" produced an amusing anecdote about the Chinese translation of the lyrics. It also led into the song (to Aftermath's chagrin). It's not that we hate "Take It Easy" - in fact, we have always liked it. We just never really need to hear it again. We were delighted when it segued in to the gorgeous "Our Lady Of The Well" just like it does on Everyman. Browne and Alvarez played the beautiful guitar figure in unison, and Browne delivered his best vocal of the night, wringing every ounce of emotion from this exquisite song to bring the set to an end. An encore of "Redneck Friend" lifted the mood, and the crowd, and brought the night to a close three hours after it began. Three hours of nostalgic angst sent Aftermath into the night with the biggest grin we've had in a long while.