Classic Rock Corner

Jackson Browne Goes Deep in Latest Swing Through Houston

Jackson Browne
Revention Music Center
October 23, 2015

California-based Jackson Browne has always straddled the line between what Janet Maslin once called "West Coast casualness and East Coast paranoia." Few singer-songwriters, especially those as enduring as he, have such an effective command of both tender ballads and angry polemics that — at first glance — may not appear angry, thanks to Browne's skills as a writer. His set last Friday at the Verizon Wireless Bayou Music Revention Music Center may have appeared sedate or even soporific to some, but there were powerful moments throughout.

[That's assuming you were able to get in at all. Several potential concertgoers were thwarted by a snafu with LiveNation's online ticketing system.] 

The opener was Larry Campbell, whose own history as a session musician, folk artist and sideman for the likes of Levon Helm and Bob Dylan could warrant a decent tour of its own. Along with wife Teresa Williams, he produced a brief set that was fairly well-received, though perhaps a tad more rambunctious than the chardonnay set was expecting.

Browne opened with the excellent "Barricades of Heaven" from 1996's Looking East. Evoking longing and regret, it was in many ways a perfectly on-the-nose selection for a Jackson Browne show. From there, "Just Say Yeah," one of the few non-political numbers from Time the Conqueror, followed by "The Long Way Around," the first of three cuts from Browne's new album Standing in the Breach.

Oh, did you not know he had a new album out? That would put you in good stead with a number of audience members, but more on that later.

Browne was less overtly political than he's been in previous gigs. To his credit, he hasn't eased up on his advocacy for environmental and human-rights causes, even if many people were honestly perplexed why he wouldn't accept a drink in a plastic cup someone was trying to hand him from the crowd. Browne has been around long enough to realize Houston probably isn't the best venue for your anti-plastics diatribe, and he didn't press the point.

And standing on the precipice of 70 years of age undoubtedly puts one in an introspective mood. It explains many of the more personal song selections on this particular tour, like "These Days" (another deepish cut from For Everyman), "For a Dancer" and "Leaving Winslow," also off the new album (with Campbell joining him on guitar).

Things picked up a bit with a rousing cover of Warren Zevon's "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded." Browne, a contemporary and friend of Zevon's, described WZ's parents thusly: "His father was a Jewish Russian gambler, His mother was a Mormon...gambler." It was an apt choice of tribute, and helped re-engage the crowd.

Yeah, "re-engage." Too many audiences, especially those of a variety best described as "Baby Boomer," seem to think every show by an artist they grew up with is going to be a cavalcade of hits (see also: Sting's 2011 tour). Apparently they've forgotten bands used to tour in support of new albums, like Standing in the Breach, and with a career spanning almost 50 years, Browne has a wealth of material to play on any given night.

Case in point: "Fountain of Sorrow" is an incredible song, touching the classic Browne-ian hallmarks of mistakes made and wisdom earned. It also dates back to Browne's third album, Late for the Sky, so it isn't like anyone has an excuse to be unfamiliar with it. Of course, tell that to the guy who kept bellowing for "ROCK AND ROLL!" Dude was like Homer Simpson at a Bachman-Turner Overdrive show.

One of Browne's last songs before "playing the hits," as it were, was "Which Side." It's Browne at his most incendiary, but you couldn't help noticing his disappointment when the lights came up and nobody leapt to their feet in support of his line about campaign finance reform.

The most enthusiastic response — shocker — came for the closing-out numbers, "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty," still powerful even after a thousand classic-rock radio plays. For an encore, there was "Take It Easy," the song the Eagles made a gajillion dollars from, and "Our Lady of the Well," a song about immigration that's as relevant today as when it was released in 1973. Jackson Browne hasn't given up the fight, and it's hard not to admire him for it.

Personal Bias: In '85 I was 17.

The Crowd: Someone should conduct a study on the correlation between Jackson Browne fandom and marital stability. For a bunch of mostly fiftysomethings (and up), there were surprisingly few trophy wives.

Overheard In The Crowd: "What kind of white wine do you have?"

Random Notebook Dump: "How to tell a crowd is old: Count the number of people using the flashes on their cell phone camera from more than five rows back."

The Barricades of Heaven
Just Say Yeah
The Long Way Around
Leaving Winslow
These Days
My Opening Farewell
Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded (Warren Zevon cover)
For Everyman
I'm Alive
For a Dancer
Fountain of Sorrow
Late for the Sky
Your Bright Baby Blues
Which Side
If I Could Be Anywhere
The Pretender
Running on Empty

Take It Easy
Our Lady of the Well

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar