Review – Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theater, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theater, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Review – Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011

– review by Shawn Conner/photos by Cameron Brown

Last night’s Jackson Browne concert was definitely one for the fans.

That is, if you didn’t know the songs, which dated back to his 1973 debut, odds are you were going to be bored, sleepy or both.

With no backup musicians and relying on a keyboard and a rack of 17 acoustic guitars, the 63-year-old delved far back into his catalogue for the sensitive singer/songwriter-type songs with which he has become synonymous.

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Back in the early to mid-70s, Browne was a songwriter with extraordinary potential (he even co-wrote, with Glenn Frey, “Take It Easy”, a song that would end up on The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, one of the best-selling album of all time. That alone means he’s never had to work a day in his life). Critical consensus names his 1974 album Late for the Sky, well-represented last night, as his masterpiece, though it was his 7x platinum-selling 1977 record Running on Empty that made him, briefly, a superstar.

That was the golden age of California rock, when compatriots like Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac were snorting countries of cocaine and selling millions of records. Like those acts, Browne has had a hard time adapting to changing musical winds and also reinvigorating his songwriting, and this was apparent from last night’s show, part of a tour that doesn’t seem to be promoting anything in particular. (His most recent album is a 2010 two-disc live set with guitarist David Lindley, Love is Strange.)

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Heavy on the early material, light on recent songs, and whole albums (mostly from the ’90s) totally ignored, the two-hour-plus concert moved in fits and stops, with some melodic progressions and the overweening earnestness of Browne’s delivery and subject matter becoming slightly repetitious, especially in the first set. However, a few of the more politically charged songs – including “Lives in the Balance” (title track to Browne’s 1986 album) and a song about plastic waste (!) that segued into his classic “Rock Me On the Water” – livened things up.

There was something off about the sound in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as well, at least for the first couple of songs, when Browne’s voice was so resonant and loud, discerning lyrics was difficult – a major setback when the songs clearly rely on the lyrics.

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

The second set, though, was a little more interesting, thanks in part to a couple of Warren Zevon covers (“Life’ll Kill Ya”, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”) and Browne’s own “In the Shape of a Heart”, the latter at the request of the guy sitting in front of us. In fact, the whole evening was largely improvised, though the singer was determined to play some tunes, including “My Stunning Mystery Companion” (which he dedicated to his girlfriend who, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, is artist/environmental activist Dianna Cohen), just as there were songs (“Rosie”, from Running on Empty; the title track of his 1976 record The Pretender), that diehard Browne fans were determined to hear.

The only song this reviewer wanted to hear, though, was “Running On Empty” (well, maybe “That Girl Could Sing” from 1980’s Hold Out album, but that’s another story). It’s safe to say I’ve been waiting to hear this song live since I bought and endlessly played the 7″ single when I was a mere lad of 13. Even without a band to give it that extra muscle, the song – which closed the second set – sounded as thrillingly alive and gloriously rueful as it did back then, in 1978, when I thought the line “I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on” was the most profound thing I’d ever heard.

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

Jackson Browne at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, March 26 2011. Cameron Brown photo

9 responses to “Review – Jackson Browne

  1. 7 years ago  

    This was one of the worst concerts I’ve ever been to. We left at intermission – I’ve been to dozens of concerts over my boomer lifetime and I have never bailed midway. (Well, at a really dismal Paul Revere thing in Gastown in the 70s – don’t ask!) I found him horribly self-indulgent and very scattered. I’m more than happy to go along for the ride when a performer wings it rather than rely on a set list, but the stopping during an intro to start a request, and the constant dicking around with guitars was really annoying after awhile.

    I agree about the sound – you could hear his voice, but it sounded as though he was mumbling.

    Also didn’t appreciate being preached to about bottled water. We’re a couple of years ahead on that issue in this country…

    Two thumbs down. (It would be more, but I only have the two…)

  2. 7 years ago  

    Hey KLF,

    I have to agree… it was mostly annoying and boring. A season performer like Browne should be able to pull off a night like that without breaking a sweat, esp. considering how long it’s been since he’s been through town. I guess I gave him the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Still liked the Zevon covers though.

  3. 7 years ago  

    Jackson Browne’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, march 26 was a show designed for his devoted fans who know and appreciate his casual performance style including his engaging banter between his very personal songs that really touch the heart. Not sure what kind a show KLF and Shawn C. were expecting, but it was advertised as a “solo” performance. So, expectations of full orchestral arrangements and pyrotechnics were unlikely. And that must have been what you were expecting or you wouldn’t have left at the intermission. I found Jackson’s performance completely entertaining and quite emotionally engaging on a level which most artists can only aspire too. Judging by the number of song titles being called out by the audience, he could have easily played for another hour and still not covered them all. So “boo” to the detractors. 🙂 LOL That show was great and I’d pay to see him again tomorrow in a heart beat! GD

  4. 7 years ago  

    I agree with Gary. I’ve been a fan of JB since Doctor My Eyes was first played on the radio. He is one of those rare singer-songwriter-musicians whose talents are so diverse and so unique, they confuse people. To truly appreciate him, you have to hear his stuff totally stripped down. I’ve seen him rock out with a full band a couple of times and I’ve seen him solo 3 times. To me he shines either way. This guy was writing stuff at sixteen that most people in their 70’s still don’t understand about life. Oh well, JB has plenty of fans to make up for the naysayers who leave his show early. We had 4 corpses sitting next to us and were happy when they left. We moved over and got a better view.

  5. 7 years ago  

    Review of Calgary March 29, 2011. He did not thrill this fan. I was one of many who left at the intermission. I didn’t pay to have JB be a glorified jukebox but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t bother with a set list or to prepare otherwise. No energy, scattered, unfocused and every song sounding exactly like the last song. There’s a reason he hadn’t played some of those songs in years – he wasn’t prepared. Not his “A” game at all. Love his latest album. There was passion in the live acoustic album – something i was expecting Tuesday night.   Hated his show. I expected more than a half-hearted effort and some rambling stories that were painful to sit through. He reminded me of an old man wandering through the house trying to remember what he was supposed to do next. Instead, 1900 or so people came to hear him sing. But his show was hijacked by those who wanted to hear obscure tracks. My wife fell asleep. Snoozefest. Still a fan of his music. Wouldn’t recommend the show. 

  6. 7 years ago  

    Sorry, Gary, but I DID know it was acoustic and solo, and I was therefore not expecting “pyrotechnics” (it was the QET, for heaven’s sake!). I didn’t mind the folksiness either. No point me repeating my earlier comments – go back and re-read! (I am a JB fan, incidentally.)

    We weren’t the only people to leave – I saw people bailing during the first half, and two other couples went to the parking lot at the same time we did.

    On the opposite side of the coin, I saw Steve Earle doing a solo acoustic performance in the same venue last year and it was fantastic. I guess some performers are more respectful of their audience than others. 🙂

  7. 7 years ago  

    We went to the Vancouver show last Saturday night at the QET. My wife and I went with two friends and we all thoroughly loved the show. We are big JB fans and have been for years and it was very special to be there.

    We loved his style, thought his voice was excellent and his guitar playing great. We sat right up front and that enhanced the experience. I thought the song selection was really good as he played most of the songs I wanted to hear.

    I am somewhat surprised to hear the negative comments from some people. From everybody I spoke to at the show, everybody seemed to be uniformly happy with his honesty, relaxed demeanor, and the depth of the show.

    I did not mind the folksiness of the show, I’d rather it this way than some slick presentation. I thought he showed a lot of himself and if he was playing again tomorrow night we’d all love to be there.

    This show certainly worked for us!

    Cheers,

    John and Blythe Montgomery

  8. 7 years ago  

    I agree with John Montgomery. This was the seventh time I’d seen Jackson Browne (with the first time in 1972 when he backed up Joni Mitchell at the QE Theatre!). Certainly the concert was geared to those who know Jackson’s music. But for those of who fit that category, it was a marvelous night – like spending time with a long time soul mate whose company keeps getting better with the passing years.

    Jackson played for over two hours and left me yearning for more. Wish there were more performers with the depth, repertoire, and sincerity of Mr. Browne.

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