Concert: Jackson Browne with David Lindley in Los Angeles
Reuniting with David Lindley gives Jackson Browne's concert presentation a welcome spark, a bit of a kick in the pants that fires up not only the songs Lindley helped shape on record in the 1970s, but latter-day tracks as well.
The best pieces in Browne's canon -- and his set Friday (7/23) at a sold-out Greek Theatre was extremely well selected -- possess an engaging didacticism, a cognitive knowledge translated in song on a universal level, and they were delivered with the endearing casualness of a friend sitting on a living room couch.
Browne latest disc, "Love is Strange," a two-CD set recorded on a tour of Spain with Lindley and several Spanish musicians, is a display of tasteful experimentation with a songbook that works best when infused with emotional honesty. The show Browne and his band delivered at the Greek Theatre was more of a standard rock show than the recording, but that crucial element -- the feeling of sincerity -- was omnipresent.
It started with Browne and Lindley alone covering Warren Zevon ("Seminole Bingo") and Bruce Springsteen ("Brothers Under the Bridge"), and it ended three hours later -- there was an intermission -- with a calm, reggae-soaked reading of Steve Van Zandt's "I am a Patriot." In between, Browne was a casual conversationalist, whether talking about his relationship with the Los Angeles, environmental concerns (the ocean, mostly) and/or singing newer songs such as "Giving That Heaven Away" or "Off of Wonderland" that take wistful trips through the memory bank.
Browne is at the point where the only way he can go wrong in concert is to not deliver touchstones of his 1970s prime, and Friday he came through with an acoustic "For Everyman" (with Lindley), "Doctor My Eyes," "Rock Me on the Water," "For a Dancer" (with emotionally stirring fiddle playing from Lindley), "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty." He front-loaded the set with three songs from his last studio album, the return-to-form "Time the Conqueror" from 2008, and captured the emotional gravitas on display on "Love is Strange" with a completely different set of musicians.
It's odd at times to watch guitarist Mark Goldenberg play parts created by the man seated to his left (Lindley), but in the cases of "Running on Empty" and "Your Bright Baby Blues," the arrangements are wide open for exploration -- lots of guitar solos on the former and bursts of gospel-style singing and instrumental leap-frogging on the latter. Leaving the theater, one could not help but feel Browne has upped the ante in presenting a night of entertainment and a few messages, a rare and welcome balance.
Browne opened the evening with just Lindley, and that feeling of two old friends getting together to share music lasted the night. After Browne left the stage, Lindley played -- with dazzling technique -- an assortment of stringed instruments from around the world as well as a humorous tune about the food served before a concert called "Catfood Sandwiches." It actually felt as if 5,800 people were engaged by an opening act.
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