Jackson Browne at The Kennedy Center
by Keith Greene
Performing before a sold-out crowd in the acoustically perfect Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center, Jackson Browne and his crackerjack band led the aging hipster audience through a mix of his older favorites along with several songs from his new album – Standing in the Breach – due to be released on October 7th. It will be his 14th studio album, and first since 2008. Mixing in humorous stories and personal recollections, Browne performed a 17-song two-set performance, before The Kennedy Center’s dreaded 10:00 p.m. Sunday night curfew pulled him off the stage without allowing for an encore. Nonetheless, the sellout crowd left thrilled with being able to catch the first show of Browne’s full-band tour which runs through November 24, 2014 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Browne recently concluded a solo tour on August 23rd.
Approaching his 66th birthday in October, Browne still looks as handsome as ever, perhaps a bit older looking but certainly wiser, with his shoulder length full head of dark hair the envy of every middle-aged male in the audience. His thin frame and charming banter had every woman in the audience remember why they fell in love – if not lust – with him in the 70s and surely re-kindled some of those feelings. Dressed in a pair of skinny jeans and a dark gray untucked shirt, Browne was clearly thrilled being at The Kennedy Center, at one point joking he was not being HONORED but simply performing a show.
Browne’s terrific band included longtime mates Val McCallum (son of David McCallum and Jill Ireland, with definite facial resemblance to his dad) on guitar); Mauricio Lewak on drums; Jeff Young (on keyboards and backing vocals), and the incredible Bob Glaub (Browne reminded the crowd that it was pronounced gl-OW-b and not GLOB) on bass. Browne also joked about the pronunciation of his own name, remarking that the “e” was silent but if audience members insisted on saying it, he preferred Brown-AY to Brown-EE. For this tour, he has added acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz on guitar, lap steel, and pedal steel and backup singer Shavonne Stewart.
While the entire band was impressive, Glaub and Lewak deserve particular mention for “providing the bottom” to the music. Their musical skills were superb and kept the band grounded throughout the night.
The eight-song first set featured a combinations of songs from the new album along with two of his hits from days gone by and a Woody Guthrie cover he performed at The Kennedy Center last year in honor of the anniversary of the late Guthrie’s 100th date of birth. Browne alternated between several acoustic and electric guitars and even took a turn at the piano during the set.
Opening with the powerhouse “The Barricades of Heaven” co-written with Lewak and Young, Browne immediately set the stage that this was to be a night of beautiful music with beautiful lyrics. Three new songs from the new album followed, including “The Long Way Around,” with harmonies added by Stewart and “Leaving Winslow,” a song Browne described as being about hobos and hopping a rattling freight train to follow one’s dreams. The stellar guitar playing of Leisz and McCallum shone through to pair with Brownes pinpoint lyricism.
Next up was “Shaky Town,” a song Browne described as composed by his former guitarist Danny Kortchmar. The song was clearly written as a trucker road-tripper, with reference to “a Big 10-4.” Browne bragged that his trucking crew has been with him for more than forty years, and he clearly performed this song as thanks to his crew. Browne then pulled out 1993’s “I’m Alive” which he sang beautifully with Young.
One of Browne’s fan favorites – “These Days” followed, with the lights – beautiful all night long – taking on a softer tint. The crowd sang along to the beautifully sad and reflective lyrics, which included “These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do” and “Now if I seem to be afraid to live the life I have made in song. Well it’s just that I’ve been losing so long.”
The first set closed with “You Know the Night,” the same song Browne performed at Woody Guthrie’s birthday party last year at the Kennedy Center. The song, about the night Guthrie met his wife, reminded the audience of Guthrie’s songwriting brilliance, which Browne comes close to matching.
Following a twenty-five minute intermission, Browne kicked off his nine-song second set with one of his biggest hits – “Rock Me on the Water” – with gorgeous harmonies provided by Young and Stewart. The new “Which Side,” about the Occupy movement followed and featured a stunning pedal steel guitar solo by Leisz. The title cut to the new album followed, dedicated to the people of Haiti and their resilience following the destructive earthquake and abject poverty. He was greeted with his first standing ovation of the evening and was genuinely moved by the audience’s reaction to a song most had never heard.
“Looking East,” the rocking title cut from Browne’s 11th album followed, with Leisz and McCallum trading hot guitar licks. Browne lowered the pace with the beautiful new “If I Could Be Anywhere,” a moving song about the ocean. The magnificent “Birds of St. Marks,” the opening cut on the new album though a song written when Browne was 18, followed. Written as a tribute to The Byrds, one could easily hear McCallum channeling Roger McGuinn on guitar. Browne announced that this “concluded my new songs” and thanked the audience for their warm support through the years. The audience responded with a huge ovation.
Browne fired up the crowd with the always popular “Running on Empty” with perfect harmonies from Stewart and Young, which was greeted with another standing ovation. And then, due to time constraints, the crowd was asked to make a decision – “Doctor My Eyes or Take It Easy?” While most of the audience pleaded for both, Browne insisted on a decision and “Take It Easy” made so popular by his L.A. buddies in the Eagles was the winner. The gorgeous version crossfaded into the beautiful “Our Lady of the Well” as it does on the stellar 1973 “For Everyman” album.
Browne again received a standing ovation and warmly thanked the joyous audience as the house lights came up. While some may have been left yearning for some of his bigger hits such as “The Pretender,” “Fountain of Sorrow” and the aforementioned “Doctor My Eyes,” no one left disappointed. Browne’s voice remains a beautiful instrument and his lyricism is in top form on the new album. Rush over to Amazon or iTunes to buy it!
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 25 minute intermission.