Last Night: Jackson Browne At Nokia Theatre

Jackson Browne Nokia Theatre October 29, 2008

Better than: Attending (with wife and kids in tow) the various fall festivals at churches in my neighborhood.

At 7:30 p.m. sharp, while many folks were still trying to find their seats, Jackson Browne hit the stage at Nokia last night and opened with “On the Boulevard,” possibly his most rocking (and least interesting) song.

The 60-year-old singer/songwriter next led his crack six-piece band into “The Barricades of Heaven,” an introspective ballad more representative of Bowne’s oeuvre. For the next two hours or so, Browne thrilled a crowd of 4,000 with hits from across four decades.

Peppering the set with a few cuts from his most recent effort, Time the Conqueror, Browne predictably got the best response on fan favorites such as “Doctor My Eyes,” “Running on Empty” and “The Pretender.” Yet it was when he delved deeper into his back catalog, such as on the emotionally devastating “Fountain of Sorrow,” that Browne really showed why he is often hailed as one of the best American songwriters.

Thematically, he splits time between the personal and the political, often within the same song. “Live Nude Cabaret,” a new number, resonated with the same kind of intellectual curiosity that has always been the hallmark of Browne’s most successful work. At times, his songs can recall the earthy soul of Van Morrison, while at others, they lean more in the direction of country/rock, ala the Eagles.

(Well, Browne did write “Take it Easy”...)

In either vein, Browne connected with a middle-aged crowd that danced like they haven’t done in several years. They guy sitting next to me said he didn’t mind the two hour trip back to Tyler after the show because Jackson Browne had changed his life. Well, that might have been the $11 beers speaking, but either way, he and most of the other folks attending this show, left feeling meditative and content.

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Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: On record, a political song like “Lives in the Balance” can come off as a bit preachy and sanctimonious. Live, however, Browne invests his more opinionated numbers with such an intense pathos that you've have to be a mannequin to not be moved. Browne fits firmly in the classic singer/songwriter trinity with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, although Browne’s not as physical as the former or as currently irrelevant as the latter.

Random Note: It was quite a collection of MILFs and cougars populating the seats of Nokia--with some screaming “I want to be your girlfriend” at Browne. Seems rock 'n' roll idolatry doesn’t have an expiration date. To be fair, despite his gray goatee and somewhat weathered pipes, Jackson Browne still maintains a boyish flair and rebellious exuberance that always seems to endear a performer to the ladies.

By The Way: After the show, a couple of guys were shouting “Vote for McCain,” in response to Jackson Browne’s inserting a few Obama references into a couple of songs. “I would if he dumped Palin,” responded an astute concert-goer. With REM’s Michael Stipe receiving equal amounts of cheers and jeers the other night for voicing his pro-Obama leanings, it appears this election could not come soon enough for those interested in only the music. --Darryl Smyers

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