During the height of the singer/songwriter/LA/Southern California period in the 1970s there was Jackson Browne and he was one of my favorites. His very personal lyrics combined with his political activism were certainly a major attraction. And then he recorded the best live album ever – Running on Empty. Instead of a greatest hits collection it was made up of all new/never recorded before songs. The songs were not only recorded on stage but in hotel rooms, backstage, and on the bus. And all the songs were about being on the road.
Browne is another one of those artists who I’ve loved for years but never saw live. I sing “Daddy’s Tune” in my set and would love to sing “These Days” but there are so many wonderful versions of that song that anything I could do with it would pale in comparison.
So I decided to see him at the Beacon. It was advertised as an all-acoustic show. And there were two nights, which promised to be different. Browne decided not to do an all-acoustic show. I do hope the second night will be different since I’ll be there both nights.
When I arrived at the Beacon Theater I was cheerfully greeted by the security guy who checked my bag. And then cheerfully greeted by the guy who scanned my ticket. And then cheerfully greeted by a woman at the top of the stairs. And cheerfully greeted by the security people telling us we would have to wait until 7:30pm for the doors to open. All this cheerfulness? The tickets were sold by Live Nation and I guess the Beacon is a Live Nation venue now and Live Nation is known for their customer service (which I can vouch for personally).
My seat was pretty good – upper balcony, second row, close to center stage. Also the stage setup was way upstage, which made for excellent viewing.
Opener Sara Watkins has played with Browne on records, performed with The Decemberists, and used to be in Nickel Creek. Her solo act is still a trio – Watkins on fiddle, her brother Sean on acoustic guitar, and Tyler Chester on bass, percussion, and keyboards. The music is bluegrass/folk/Americana with the high female voice up front. All three were excellent musicians but I can’t say that the lyrics or the singing moved me particularly. She also is not so great with the patter. Watkins is much sought after and has worked with some very major artists and gets major artists to produce her work. Maybe this is why I would never had made it in A&R. Browne introduced Watkins and also played two songs with her as did his guitarist and drummer. She covered the Everly Brothers “You’re the One I Love” (which featured Fiona Apple on Watkins’ record).
The first thing I noticed about Jackson Browne is that he has the same haircut from 40 years ago. He started at the piano with Val McCallum on guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals and Mauricio Lewak on drums and backing vocals. He played without a set list and the audience kept yelling out favorites. Sometimes Browne accommodated them and other times he played what he was in the mood for, which made me happy. Had the show just been a collection of hits I could have stayed home and listened to his albums. Instead I was treated to new songs (both newly written and new to me). During his set Watkins’ band joined in.
Mid-set, McCallum performed a song from his album “Tokyo Girl.” At one point I noticed the guitar rack off to the side. There must have been 30 guitars there. And Browne uses a different guitar for each song. Seriously. Each guitar is for a specific song.
Browne can still bring tears to my eyes. When he sang the soulful, sad, and beautiful “Sky Blue and Black” I started crying. And then later when he sang a heartbreaking version of “Late for the Sky.” “These Days” got a change in melody – Browne told us that the Glen Campbell and Nico versions are virtually the same, which is a little freaky. Since he was in NYC, we were treated to a lot of songs that he wrote when he first came to NYC.
I’m very much looking forward to what I’ll be treated to tonight.
By Carene Lydia Lopez