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Jackson Browne Digs Deep at PPAC

Friday, August 22, 2014


Jackson Browne arrived in town with a grand piano, 23 guitars and a songbook full of classics. His show Wednesday at PPAC was a stunning success which saw him reach deep into his catalog of popular sing-a-longs and lesser known classics.

Live and Solo … Backed by the Audience

“There’s only one rule,” Browne announced early in the second set. “When somebody calls for ‘Running on Empty,’ I play it right away.” Needless to say, the 1978 hit, from the top selling album of the same name, was a show highlight. It was that album, and its tale of life on the road, that made him a superstar.

Big hits aside, Jackson Browne was the quintessential singer-songwriter of the 1970’s, challenging his fans with brooding love songs and stories of human frailty. He’s never hidden his progressive politics, and he makes no apologies for his biting, sometimes morose lyrics.

These days, he’s mellow, authentic, and still original, with a good sense of humor. He’s a seasoned showman, taking requests from the crowd throughout the concert, and occasionally switching guitars to satisfy his fans. The passage of time has been good to this singer - his voice is still strong, unlike many of his generation.

A Great Storyteller

The concert began with Browne on guitar singing “I’ll Do Anything,” a song from his 1993 I’m Alive album. He then played a number of early his classics including “For Everyman,” “Something Fine,” and the brilliant “Barricades of Heaven.”

Later in the set, “Your Bright Baby Blues,” played with a slide on a gorgeous resonator guitar, was a highlight in a show full of highlights. An unassuming but beautiful version of “Late for the Sky” came later, closing out the first set.

Browne is at his finest when there’s a story to be told. He shared one about the time he was asked to contribute a Christmas song to a Chieftain’s album several years ago. The result was “The Rebel Jesus,” a socially conscious Christmas carol in the tradition of The Kinks “Father Christmas.”

"In a life of hardship and of earthly toil,

There's a need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus."

A Songwriting Genius

Browne’s genius as a songwriter is seen in a number of his tunes, especially in his more contemplative work.  The second set opened with the classic “These Days,” a song of regret and renewal from the For Everyman album.

"I'll keep on moving
Things are bound to be improving these days …
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend
Don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them."

After a charged “Rock Me on the Water,” fans shouted “Zevon,” a reference to Browne’s late friend, singer-songwriter Warren Zevon. The result was “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me,” a full PPAC sing-a-long, with the audience recalling Zevon’s wit and wisdom, as well as the radio friendly version done by Linda Rondstadt.

Back on Keyboards, Browne launched into an upbeat “Doctor My Eyes,” followed by “Sky Blue and Black,” and then the classic “The Pretender,” which saw him pounding the ivories with an intensity unmatched during the show.  The song is another example of his brilliant songwriting, a love song snarling with social commentary, the lyrics relevant today more than ever.

"I'm going to be a happy idiot,

and struggle for the legal tender

Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender..."


Brown closed the show with the obligatory “Take it Easy,” and returned to the stage for encores “I Am a Patriot” and the “Before the Deluge,” two songs that haven’t lost their meaning over the years. He shined on “Patriot,” a song written by Steven Van Zandt, but made famous by Browne. He finished by warmly thanking the audience, a reminder that he’s a talented and genuine artist, and equally important, a sincere human being.  

Be sure to check out Jackson's new album, Standing in the Breach, due out in October.  It includes a “new” song, “The Birds of St. Marks,” written in 1967, and occasionally played in concert over the years.

Ken Abrams review Roots, Rock and Blues for GoLocal. E-Mail him at mrabrams@aol.com.


Related Slideshow: Mojo Photography: Jackson Browne at the Providence Performing Arts Center


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