Jackson Browne at The Royal Albert Hall (London, UK – Nov. 24, 2014)
A national newspaper previewing Jackson Browne’s London show referred to him as “the ultimate ’70s L.A. songwriter”, which suggested that he is one of those performers who live on past glories. Nothing could be further from this mark. His latest album Standing in the Breach is a collection of ten songs balancing personal reflections with political and social commentary and it has been well received. Although “The Birds of St. Marks” was written many years ago and “You Know the Night” takes the words of the late Woody Guthrie and sets them to music, the substance of the songs is relevant to life as experienced in the modern world.
A capacity crowd (5,000+) welcomed Browne and his five-piece band, demonstrating their appreciation with waves of applause and cheers. Two sets and almost three hours of music made for a magical evening. Browne’s easy charm and good humour, as he faced a slew of requests, just endeared him all the more to an audience, many of whom were clearly long-time fans. Classic songs were greeted with immediate recognition and many received standing ovations.
In his mid 60s but looking years younger, Browne is still in fine voice and combined, very effectively, the new with the old. His ability to write material blending catchy melodies with incisive lyrics has established him as a songwriter’s songwriter. Classics such as “These Days” (written when he was just 16 years old), “The Pretender”, and “Running on Empty” satisfied those who wanted to hear him play older material, but it was apparent from his comments that he was particularly keen to showcase the newer songs.
Prefacing material from Standing in the Breach with the back-stories, the songs were even stronger in a live setting. The title track was dedicated to school children in Haiti who were able to start their education after Artists for Justice and Peace raised money for the building of a school – Browne was one of the fundraisers. He is well known for his activism. “Which Side?”, a biting commentary on the social-political landscape, pays homage to the 1930’s union anthem “Which Side Are You On?” “Leaving Winslow” was written about an art installation that travelled the States on a train – it brings to mind the line about the “corner in Winslow, Arizona” from “Take It Easy” — his co-write with Glenn Frey and a huge hit for The Eagles. “The Birds of St. Marks” saw Greg Leisz strap on a guitar and emulate Roger McGuinn – the song, originally penned in the late 1960’s, could have been written for The Byrds.
Responding to one of the many requests shouted out, Browne played “Late for the Sky” for the first time on this tour. “For a Dancer” was another request and, fortuitously, it was on the planned set list – he said that the relationship with an audience is like that with a person and sometimes he gets to a point where he just wants to snap and not do what’s being asked! I think one can understand his frustration – he wants his new material to shine as brightly as the old.
Dazzling guitar work by Val McCallum, Leisz’s rising pedal steel, sympathetic piano and organ from Jeff Young, polished bass by Bob Glaub and drumming from Mauricio Lewak complemented Browne’s own guitar and piano. A leader who gave his band rein to express themselves Browne didn’t hog the limelight; he’s been around long enough to know how to get the best out of each individual. Rousing applause, dancing in the aisles and standing ovations culminated in a three-song encore – the afore-mentioned “Take It Easy” seguing into “Our Lady of the Well” and finishing with “Before the Deluge”, his scarily prophetic song from the 70’s.
Browne is a musician who wears his fame lightly but remains as vital as ever.