October 17, 2021
For GenX-ers like myself, now is truly the twilight of the artists who were more or less ubiquitous when we were growing up. It isn't just that half the Beatles are long dead, or that our only recollections of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison are via ancient footage, but also how many of our favorite acts of yore are packing it in once and for all.
It's a topic I touched upon in my review of Paul Simon's farewell show, but the phenomenon has snowballed in recent years. Understandably so, given the aging of these Boomer stalwarts. In addition to Simon, recent years have seen/will see the retirements of Joan Baez, Bob Seger, Genesis, Lynyrd Skynyrd Elton John, and KISS(?)
But don't put James Taylor or Jackson Browne in that category. The two, both in their 70s, have released albums recently (Browne's Downhill from Everywhere came out this year, Taylor American Standard in 2020) and show no signs of calling it quits. That point was made — if not emphatically so — last night at the Toyota Center, where each singer-songwriter leaned heavily on the nostalgia factor in front of a [ - ] Sunday night crowd.
Browne has over 50 years of songs to draw upon, and was actually the headliner the last time he came through town. His set list this time was necessarily more abrupt, but even an arena environment can't dilute the urgency of his more powerful message songs, or the melancholy of his (many) songs about failed love.
He took the stage noting this concert had been "a long time comin'," not coincidentally leading into "I'm Alive," from the 1993 album of the same name. The set was a bit abbreviated, as befits the opener, and Browne himself remarked how "spooky" quiet the crowd was.
Blame that on his tendency to be democratic in his song choices (I'd like to hear "Lawyers in Love" performed live, just one time). Or perhaps it's how he's always managed to camouflage his darker themes in pop trappings, themes that take on an added poignancy as he (and his crowd) ages.
If it ain't broke, as the saying goes, don't fix it. Taylor and his All-Star Band (including "Blue" Lou Marini on sax, Michito Sanchez and Steve Gadd on percussion/drums, and Taylor's son Henry on backing vocals) eased through a familiar set, punctuated liberally with the expected hits while only showcasing one cut off American Standard (the Johnnie "Scat" Davis cover "As Easy as Rolling Off a Log").
The show was a little front-loaded with anecdotes, as Taylor set a scene for "You Make it Easy" (a smoky bar at 2:30 a.m., when one's judgment is always at its finest), or talking about his Carolina upbringing for — wait for it — "Copperline." Maybe I've missed out, but surely there are stories to tell about the big hits? The back half of his set seemed almost rushed by comparison.
And then there was "Steamroller."
It's been a staple of his live sets since 1969, but traditions aren't always a good thing. Kind of awkward back then, Taylor's grimacing and mugging last night threatened to discombobulate the entire affair. Fortunately, "Fire and Rain," "Carolina in My Mind," and the others were right around the corner.
Taylor's production was surprisingly elaborate, with an engaging video presentation and a giant oak tree that loomed over the stage with multi-colored lanterns that dipped and rose as the music required. It served its purpose, conferring a pastoral, comforting presence on music that's already pretty soothing.
The singer also enjoyed some back and forth with the audience, responding to repeated cries of "I love you" with reminders that he's happily married (third time's a charm) and wisely not pursuing a conversational thread about his Red Sox and the Astros.
But this wasn't a crowd spoiling for a fight. Indeed, judging by the reaction to the closing numbers, and to Browne joining for an encore that included "Take It Easy" and "You've Got A Friend," both artists proved they still have what it takes to bring the house down. Not that there's any way to tell how much of that was a reaction to finally getting to see this show after it was postponed twice due to COVID.
Judging by the attendees, a lingering pandemic was less of a priority than filming large chunks of the show with the flashlight app on full blast.
The Crowd: Old and bald enough it could've been a James Taylor cosplay convention.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Free Bird!"
Random Notebook Dump: "Who the fuck still yells 'Free Bird!' in 2021?"
JACKSON BROWNE SET LIST
Rock Me on the Water
Long Way Around
Fountain of Sorrow
Downhill from Everywhere
Call It A Loan
Doctor, My Eyes
Running On Empty
JAMES TAYLOR SET LIST
That's Why I'm Here
You Make It Easy
Line 'Em Up
Easy as Rollin' Off a Log (Johnnie ‘Scat’ Davis cover)
Sweet Baby James
Fire and Rain
Carolina in My Mind
Shower the People
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) (Marvin Gaye cover)
Shed a Little Light
Take It Easy (Eagles cover)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King cover)
You Can Close Your Eyes