At one point during his absolutely stunning nearly three-hour set at L.A.’s Pantages Theater Saturday night (October 21), Jackson Browne stood in the center of the stage, guitar in hand, when somebody from the audience called for “Late For The Sky.” The amiable Browne smiled, said, “Really? Alright,” put down the guitar and went to the piano.
That is Jackson Browne in a nutshell, such an easygoing performer and person, happy to please his audience. In fact he joked about the one time he sang Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” after audience members called for it. And he goes, “I sing the s**t out of ‘Free Bird.'”
This was a night of tremendous joy with Browne and his stellar band being home for the second of his sold-out three night stand at the historic venue where Browne said early on he had seen several Broadway musicals as well as Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan in concert there over the years.
As Browne reminded everyone Saturday night he has the catalogue to match any artist that had ever graced that stage, even Dylan. Browne is one of the greatest songwriters in the annals of rock and over the course of a three-hour night, when you take the best of his career, it rivals anyone.
This show was a master class in songwriting. Much of that came from the versatility Browne and his band showed. Though Browne, along with James Taylor, was at the center of the ’70s singer/songwriter movement, known for its softer side, Browne had plenty of up-tempo rockers to ignite the crowd. “Redneck Friend,” “Doctor My Eyes,” “Boulevard,” the pop gem “Somebody’s Baby” and the recent “Downhill From Everywhere” all were outstanding.
But of course Browne had plenty of quieter songs to draw on as well. In addition the aforementioned “Late For The Sky,” there was the gorgeous “Sky Blue And Black,” the timeless “These Days,” beautiful covers of his late friend Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” which opened the show, and “The Indifference Of Heaven” and “The Late Show.”
Where Browne, and especially the band, really shone though was in the songs that bridged the two worlds. Browne is a master at building songs up, taking listeners on a emotional journey that rises in emotion and tempo. Just look at this list of songs — “For Everyman”; “The Pretender”‘; “Fountain Of Sorrow,” a huge highlight on this night and “For A Dancer,” my vote for the most poignant song ever written about death.
One of the marks of truly great songwriters is when they dig deep into more obscure songs and they stand up just as well, or better, than the hits. Browne did that in this show with two of the highlights coming from songs Browne said they didn’t play often. The first was the underrated “Call It A Loan,” which Browne dedicated to his late longtime friend and guitarist David Lindley. The second was “That Girl Could Sing,” from 1980’s Hold Out album. One of Browne’s most powerful songs, it is a beautiful love song.
At his best, Browne captures the human emotion as well as anyone. Maybe that is why his songs are such potent triggers of memories. Watching Browne in concert is like looking at a photo album or home movie for so many of us. And like those experiences it is filled with emotion, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always a beautiful soundtrack to one’s life.