Jackson Browne Bayou Music Center November 7, 2012
Jackson Browne must find himself in a curious position. At times the requests he got from an otherwise adoring and attentive crowd (minus those people would wouldn't shut up about two rows behind us) Wednesday night resembled the trading floor of a futures market. When artists sometimes complain about fans treating them cattle, this is probably what they mean.
As someone who sees it a fair amout of the time, it's funny to watch, and a little baffling. Fans shout out their requests, and no matter what song it is, applaud enthusiastically when the artist starts the song -- whatever song it is. Sometimes you can here an excited "yes!" under someone's breath nearby. Browne, now 64, was very affable about the whole situation.
Overall, this particular tour -- the essence of "casual" in everything but the skill of the musicianship and the emotions in the lyrics -- seemed to be set up to accommodate the audience's wishes better than most others might be. But whenever the requests really start flying, Browne confessed, "I just don't know where to go... there comes a point in every tour where I just snap... [taking requests] is like cheating, right?"
Not for this crowd. Browne congratulated whomever shouted out for "Disco Apocalypse" near the end of the main set with "you get the award for the song that nobody yells for."
But Browne is not just some hack doing two sets a night for tips at the Tick Tock Inn. He is one of rock's most gifted songwriters, with the kind of insight and empathy most others of his kind simply do not possess. Within his generation, arguably only Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon have a similar instinct for both craft and poetry. Browne adds a little bit of Tom Petty's roguish charm, perhaps a byproduct of so much L.A. seeping in over the past few decades.
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This show was definitely for grownups. Browne does not do frivolity, whether reflecting on things he hasn't done in "These Days" or prophesying doom "Crow on the Cradle." Actually, doom came in the encore, as some ecological catastrophe looms among the Babylonian whirl of "Before the Deluge." His songs are riddled with sleepless nights, highway lust and private insecurities.
His love songs were bruised, usually odes to women long gone. Browne made it sound like they sure were fun while they lasted on "The Naked Ride Home" and "For a Dancer," though. Others ("I'm Alive," "Farther On") projected simple relief at surviving this long, something we can all relate to. But Browne leaves a lot of room for interpretation. "I'll Do Anything" could be a pledge or a plea, "Farther On" an account of quiet faith or simple surrender.
Melancholy though it may have been, the show had its own pleasures. Wednesday was an excellent night if you love well-crafted acoustic guitars (an appreciation Browne and Petty seem to share), as there must have been about a dozen off to the side of the stage behind Browne. When not seated at an especially resonant piano, he used them well; I especially liked the 12-string on the madrigal-like "Crow on the Cradle."
His band, anchored by acutely talented guitarist Val McCallum and with frequent walk-ons by opening violinist Sara Watkins (ex-Nickel Creeek), punched up the tempo as the show climaxed on "The Late Show" and "Running On Empty." They saved their biggest head of steam for "Take It Easy" in the encore, though.
Spiritual songs about secular subjects, many of the arrangements seemed lifted from folk music or hymns as much as rock and roll. To borrow a phrase from opener "Black and White," the music clung to a kernel of hope even as the words often painted a picture of a life in flames.
Personal Bias: I went on tour with the Austin rock band Moonlight Towers for three weeks in 2006, and the No. 1 tape in the van was Running on Empty. I have a deep appreciation for Jackson Browne, if not an exhaustive knowledge of his catalogue.
The Crowd: Older Jackson Browne fans, including my dad, who said Browne was the last artist on his "bucket list" of people to see live. I'm not quite sure how to take that, if only because I sure hope it's not the last concert we ever go to together.
Overheard In the Crowd: "This is a nice-sounding place" - Browne, from the stage
Random Notebook Dump: Browne had a gleam in his eye I hope I have if I'm lucky enough to live that long.
Black and White I'm Alive Call It a Loan The Naked Ride Home For a Dancer I've Been Out Walking Crow on the Cradle The Pretender Doctor My Eyes A Child In These Hills Tokyo Girl (Val McCallum solo) Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate The Late Show I'll Do Anything Running on Empty
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Take It Easy Before the Deluge