“Let the Music Keep Our Spirits High”: Jackson Browne in London
“Let the music keep our spirits high”, he sang, and how it did. During his 2 hour 40 minute show, Jackson Browne went from a carefully selected setlist to what was little more than a request spot and back again that did immense justice to his long and distinguished discography. Not only did the audience lap it up, but Browne and his superb band appeared to enjoy themselves.
For many, Jackson Browne represents a mid to late 1970s West Coast sound that swings from sunny optimism to deep reflection bordering on introspection. Though he has had several notable releases since, the requests shouted out were firmly rooted in those fertile years. His great band built around long-standing bassist, Bob Glaub, Val McCallum and pedal steel player and guitarist, Greg Leisz, faithfully create that sound but this was no nostalgia fest. Browne performed everything with a freshness that defies the years and let’s face it, the subjects and feelings contained are every bit as relevant today as when he wrote the songs. Browne looked well, he always did, the words he sang and the sound he and his band created confirmed a man still at the top of his game. This was a welcome respite from what seems to be an endless stream of loss over the past couple of years.
Walking onto the stage with a cheery wave Browne went straight into “Just Say Yeah” followed in quick succession by “The Long Way Around”, “Before the Deluge” and “Looking East”. This early section was the highly polished performance, almost choreographed, that I had been expecting. That may be so but these shows being rare events over here, perhaps Browne was keen to stamp his mark. He certainly did that with the jam that brought the third of these to a head. He also made sure this wasn’t a solo effort as guitarist Val McCallum testified.
A meticulously planned setlist and taking requests wasn’t the only contrast. Browne chatted to the audience as if he was playing at a friend’s party, telling stories and creating a bond over what looked from where I was sitting, a huge stage. But he hasn’t left behind any of the political views and activism that run through so much of his repertoire. The best example was “Walls and Doors”, written by his friend, Carlos Varela. A title now more apt than ever, Browne mused that it’s perhaps his own country that is in isolation and no longer the writer’s birthplace, Cuba. At another break between songs, the political comment was more a sense of “don’t get me started”.
For knockabout fun the highlight was another cover, Randy Newman’s “A Piece of the Pie”, in which Browne features not very flatteringly but he takes it well. While on covers, “Carmelita” was a great tribute to his old friend long passed, Warren Zevon.
Otherwise, the dominant theme was just the sweep of wonderful material Jackson Browne has written himself. Swapping guitar for grand piano, to accommodate a request from the audience, it was all here; “For Everyman”, “The Pretender”, “Late for the Sky”, “These Days”, “For a Dancer”, “Sky Blue and Black”, “In the Shape of a Heart”, “Running on Empty” with three encores, the highlight being the one that pretty much summed up the man and the evening, “Take it Easy”.
The joy of this evening’s performance was palpable but the message and reflection of the songs have lost none of their meaning. With a great band and backing singer Jackson Browne is making sure all are fit for purpose in the 21st century.