Jackson Browne – War Memorial Auditorium (Greensboro, NC)
I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening?
— Jackson Browne, “The Pretender”
In a sense, all of Jackson Browne’s music has been a search for the answer to the question posed above. From his beginnings as a ruminative singer-songwriter in the 1970s, through the period of his greatest popularity in the latter part of that decade, he seemed preoccupied with love’s changes. His politically oriented forays of the 1980s appeared to be reaching toward the “greater awakening.” Browne has always interwoven the two themes in his work, but his most recent records have placed an emphasis on the personal that hearkened back to his earlier recordings.
Those earlier recordings were the focal point of this solo acoustic show. Of 30 songs played, exactly half came from Browne’s first three albums, released from 1972-74. Such front-loading of early material was not entirely of Browne’s doing: The organizing conceit of this solo tour was the lack of a set list, and after the opening number, “I’m Alive”, his selections were responses to audience requests. This had the potential to be disruptive — his performance of “Rosie” early in the show seemed primarily for the quieting of one specific person, for example. In the end, however, it enhanced the atmosphere of easy familiarity.
The stage setup was sparse — only Browne’s monitors, a simple wooden chair, ten guitars, and an electric piano. Browne’s facility as a guitarist and keyboardist made the lack of a band virtually irrelevant, and his singing has become richer and more textured with time.
The song selections covered a variety of moods and tempos. Highlights of the nearly three-hour show included quieter, more introspective numbers from the early albums: “Jamaica Say You Will”, “I Thought I Was A Child”, “These Days”, and “For A Dancer”, the last of those dedicated to the memory of North Carolina auto racing icon Dale Earnhardt. Equally as affecting as the ’70s songs, however, were “Call It A Loan” (from the 1980 album Hold Out) and “Too Many Angels” (from 1993’s I’m Alive).
“Don’t confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them,” sings Browne in “These Days”. This line received the first spontaneous, heartfelt applause of the night from an audience composed primarily of contemporaries of the artist, now 53. Their evening with Browne was not a mere reveling in nostalgia. For them, it was an elegiac reminiscence of a time when their music mattered, when their possibilities seemed endless, and when their failures and fitful dreams of love and the greater awakening were all in the future.