Gig review by Toni Woodward

Jackson Browne

It takes a unique artist to receive a standing ovation before they have even played or sung a note, but that is the welcome that is bestowed upon Jackson Browne by the audience of Symphony Hall tonight.  There is no support as Browne is intending to deliver a lengthy set split by a brief interval of fifteen minutes.

He begins with The Barricades of Heaven taken from his 1996 album, Looking East, that demonstrates Browne’s skill at storytelling through music. His beautifully smooth vocals flow throughout the venue, creating pictures through his use of words, which are supported by an unmistakably Americana composition. Jackson Browne makes the most of Symphony Hall’s fantastic acoustics, as every element of the band can be heard in a near perfect mix that allows each instrument to come to the forefront when required whilst the vocals are prominent without being overbearing.

With such a vast back catalogue, Browne flits between eras seamlessly and the second track of the evening sees him take to the piano for Looking Into You to take us back to the early ‘70’s. Jackson Browne has compiled a superb selection of musicians for his band, which is evident from Val McCallum’s lead guitar as he approaches songs with sensitivity, preventing the solos from becoming overwhelming whilst adding a level of melody and development. Clearly, Browne is appreciative of his band as they are introduced early on in the set; however, focus is often aimed at Greg Leisz’s skills on lap steel, pedal steel and guitar. Jackson even proclaims that Leisz has managed to capture the essence of The Birds of St Mark; creating the sound that Browne heard forty years earlier. Between songs, Jackson often explains the inspiration for the track or relays an amusing anecdote that makes him an even more endearing performer and reiterates how comfortable he is on stage, happily engaging with the odd shout from the audience. Drummer, Mauricio Lewak, has the enviable talent of producing dynamically powerful sounds, which are precisely what is required for that song, illustrated by the consistent rhythm of Long Way Around.

Every track receives a positive response, however, there are clear audience favourites such as These Days and the penultimate song of the main set, The Pretender; both, of which, result in whistles and shouts of delight. None of Jackson Browne’s songs are short, he even jokes about reducing You Know The Night (an adaptation of one of Woody Guthrie’s letters) down from fifteen minutes which became essential as he wasn’t sure he would remember all the lyrics and doesn’t want to start using a teleprompter, yet they all seem the perfect length to allow you to take a musical journey with him. During Looking East, he reminds me of an American Mike Scott describing, with eloquence, the scenes and emotions surrounding him. Furthermore, with the keyboard line, demonstrated by Jeff Young, and the more frenetic pace, this track ends up being my highlight of the set. The Pretender and Running on Empty, see the majority of the audience take to their feet and start to move in appreciation, as much as is feasible in a seated venue. And it is this enthusiasm that spills over and sees Browne return for an encore of Take It Easy.

There is a reason why the career of some artists span over forty years and this is evident with Jackson Browne. His voice is more refined and tranquil whilst his skill for song writing is unquestionable if you have an appreciation of Americana. Usually, I like my music with an edgier feel yet Browne cleverly creates visuals that allow your mind the freedom to roam along the railroad or vast spaces of the States without being jolted back into reality, which in itself is luxury. From the look of enjoyment on Jackson Browne’s face as well as the happiness of the audience; one can be quite certain that Browne’s career has got further to go.

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