Jackson Browne with David Lindley Rocks Cleveland: Hope, Waking, Love, Loss & Environmentalism on the banks of the Cuyahoga
Jackson Browne w David Lindley
Tower City Amphitheatre
19 Sept 2010
“I hear they’re gonna tear down this tent and put up a casino,” Jackson Browne said with a bit of lament, taking the stage where the Cuyahoga River rolls through the industrial flats of Cleveland and the moon was rising behind him. “It’s happening everywhere.”
Just Browne and multi-instrumental David Lindley on two chairs, night air settling on the proceedings as a buzzing tone came from the National steel guitar and Lindley’s voice – equal parts hickory and turpentine – launched into Warren Zevon’s “Seminole Bingo,” a song that skewers government shenanigans and politico chicanery with the randy “the SEC and junkbond kings/ all play Seminole bingo.”
With that acerbic bit of pluck, the two partners in eco-centric crime and song put the crowd on notice that grey matter, in addition to the expected deep romantic caverns, would be engaged this night. That song was followed by a stark rendition of Springsteen’s “Brothers Under A Bridge,” a compassionately honest look at how life unravels beneath certain people. Feathery, with a sparkling quality to provide a contrast to allow true consideration of the harshness of what the lyric captures, there was an ardor to the vocals that could only be considered dignity for the ones who slipped through the cracks and a challenge to remember our brothers.
That fidelity of souls continued into Browne’s ecological manifesto “For Everyman,” a song given a straight-forward treatment. Not one to preach, the dark-haired songwriter has no problem laying out reality and saying “Make your decision…,” then adding “Choose wisely.”
The irony is the Hummer-driving Yuppes in attendance who wore this record out in college, yet never embraced the notion that this reality applied to them. With a voice that defies time, what is lost of the upper register has been enhanced the rest of his range with an earthiness that is rich and manly without being big or deep.
With an oud for embellishment, Lindley offers the genius flavor to the song, just as his bouzouki figures and flourishes take “Looking East” to an even more hypnotic place. Absolutely a seeker’s song, “East” is embroidered with a tension that builds upon and excavates the melody to take what’s being sung to a sub/unconscious place.
It is that textural and rhythmic dexterity that makes Lindley a musical witch, pulling drama from simple phrases and flash from what his fingers can do. When Lindley finds his zone, expanding and tightening, turning and straightening, he can conjure an almost altered state in the listener – and he used these gifts to great effect.
And that almost guru effect reaches into his vocal chords, as well. When he sings, it is a voice from deep beneath the earth’s top layers – calling forth knowing, time, even witness on the gospel standard “What Is The Soul of the Man,” then with equal ease, he ramps up, guzzles and grunts his way through Steve Earle’s moonshine-to-marijuana outlaw anthem “Copperhead Road” as if he’s the carny child of mountain cuzzins.
Hoary, wizened, steadfast… Lindley’s voice is not pretty, but it is the truth, and it flinches at nothing, nor does it gloss up or over what his eye sets on. As an ending to the opening set, it left raw places and throbbing synapses, the perfect way to set up what would be a Jackson Browne set to satisfy the 20s somethings, aging hippies, political activists, Yuppies and fans of exquisite songcraft.
For Jackson Browne, whose writing has evolved and maintained its potency over the past three decades, realizes that his fans come in waves, looking for different things in the music. While there is overlap – the intellect, perhaps, and a heightened sense of sensitivity or at least romance – there are those looking to recapture their youth, some who wish to know they’re not alone, the ones who come to sink into the provocative questions raised and the few who are very much on the front of the emotional tides of growing up and finding awareness and some degree of maturity.
With a supple band that knows the nuances of these songs, the places to push and surge or gently pull back, Browne deftly straddled the pop iconographics, the tender doubt and desire, the moments of recognition and challenge with a flourish that said “these songs, you and I, we’re all brilliantly, impossibly alive.”
Working a 1, 2-punch off last year’s genius Time The Conquerer, Browne went from the rearview mirror ponderance of who he and his entire generation was – “Didn’t we believe in love, didn’t we believe in giving it away?” he sang with bittersweet knowing — in “Off Of Wonderland” into the recollecting sweetness of that innocent communion of the supple “Giving That Heaven Away,” inspired by a letter from a girl who spent one magic day with at festival somewhere.
Certainly the gorgeous sadness of love fading, lost or not quite there is an earmark of Browne’s songs, so much so it’s easy to not consider the effervescent euphoria that is the moments of connection and surrender. “Baby Just Say Yeah,” “Doctor My Eyes,” a song of reckoning delivered with enough verve to have the audience dancing and the tightrope walking d’amourata of “My Problem Is You” work sweeping rhythms, exultant choruses and a guitar sheen that is positively gleaming.
Not that all “the hits” were dour affairs. And this night, he hit all of the biggies: “Running On Empty” revved and growled, a note of defiance to a world grown bloated and clogged by its own greed, “The Pretender” delivered with a stroicism that was almosr ebullient.
Indeed, “Rock Me On The Water,” with its stealth gospel undulations, churned with a certain Top 40 zeal that seems perpendicular to the introspective pining of “Your Bright Baby Blues,” which found the audience singing along almost as strong as the back-up singers onstage.
That is part of it: the power of recognition, not just who we were, but we hope(d) to be – and it is in that communal sense of belonging that so many of these songs age into something even more powerful.
To be strong in the loss is to be a man. To be hurt without rancorous is to be strong. Stringing details like bistro lights, twinkling in the trees, he recounts a love gone during the haunting “In The Shape of a Heart,” and later ripples single piano notes into chords into a full band work-up of “Fountains of Sorrow,” a song that illustrates love affairs can be as elegiac as lives themselves.
Another pretty piano prelude, threaded with Lindley’s violin, was the equally heart-tugging “For A Dancer,” a song to celebrate the girl in the cooling of the ardor. To leave with dignity, even when one’s bruised, is an art – and for the Southern California bard, an artform.
The way ghosts linger – and rattle their chains – create musical excorism, and certainly “Too Many Angels” is the work of the echoes of how bad it can be before someone says enough. Loving isn’t always the same as understanding, passion isn’t always gentle – and in the funnel cloud of kinetics, there are the truths we hate to see. Perhaps the night’s rawest moment, “Too Many Angels” had a Middle Eastern tinge that added exoticism to the halting and twisting beats and the austerity of the arrangement.
Talking to the audience a mix of humor, history and the occasional insight, Browne and a band that included Mark Goldenberg on electric guitar and so much more, melodically-driving bass player Kevin McCormack, drummer Mauricio Lewin, B-3/keyboardist Jeff Young and singers Deana Diandra and Alethea Mills (the latter from South Central’s progressive gospel collective the Levite Camp) spun a spell where music was a living organism of dimension, energy and breath.
It is with a strong note of joy that they spun through a romping take on “Mercury Blues,” all bucking and laughter – and deep humor of the requested “Rosie,” which reinforced all the implications of the self-love track from the road opus Running On Empty with a dignity unwarranted but hilarious.
But it is mostly the dignity of the struggle of coming to awareness: growing, learning, seeking. Those are the things that have marked Browne’s songs of loss, love and social consciousmess. The struggle to be better, the cost of doing the right thing.
It was fitting then that show ended with “I Am A Patriot,” a song that creates a larger context of what patriotism means: honor for all people, kindness and compassion in one’s wake and – ultimately – recognizing that it is the larger picture that must always be taken into consideration in the I, Me, Mine reality that has come to define our acquisitive nation.
With the various players trading lines with each other and the audience, it was a moment of community, of collected faith in what could be. Would people take it beyond the parking lot? It was hard to say, but for one golden song, everyone was sharing the words as if they meant them – and maybe that is how fire is brought from the coals that lie mostly still.
Jackson Browne is, obviously, a romantic icon: the sensitive poet who understands how the girls feel – and the things that the evolved embrace. But he is a touchstone of who several generations wanted to believe they are… and in that, he serves his fans, even as – now like then – he gently prods them to think about how they live, how they run and the things that truly matter.
More than nostalgia, he refuses to fossilize. If it is about the music, he has maintained a vitality to the songs and the playing. If it is about the hits, they were there and given the brightness that makes pop music so shimmering. And if it is about the quest, he is still seeking, still challenging, still reporting back from the edge of honor and reality, consciousness and making a difference in a world bent on shortsight and get mine.
How many artists can do that? It’s hard to say; but Jackson Browne isn’t worried about them, he’s only worried about his songs, those fans and the way they connect under a full moon rising on the banks of a river that once caught on fire and now where people catch fish.
That is all he can do. That’s all that matters. Renewed faith, like energy, keeps people running – long after the equipment is loaded and the band is long, long gone.
— Holly Gleason