Jackson Browne @ The Orpheum Theatre|2/13/13
Back in 1975 Olivia Newton John lyrically asked the question "Have you ever been mellow?" Such a question would never be posed to Jackson Browne. The singer/songwriter has to be the mellowest rock star on the planet.
Almost the entire first set of Browne's Orpheum Theatre concert was performed sitting down-- either at the piano or on a chair, acoustic guitar in hand--while he churned out minor key epics of lost love, loneliness, and alienation.
And this was exactly what the near-capacity crowd wanted as they warmly embraced every number, and then called out requests all night.
You get one, and I get one," Browne quipped, clearly enjoying himself as his tour, which began as a solo acoustic jaunt last summer, nears conclusion. "After awhile, I didn't want to play by myself," he added, explaining the band backing him.
The audience would have been satisfied with Browne alone, but the band--bass, drums and guitar--add depth and dimension to the songs, filling in the emotions that solo piano or guitar wouldn't touch.
Browne opened the show at the piano with a moving, but low-key version of "Black and White," setting the tone for much of the evening, the first set specifically. He moved to acoustic guitar for a wrenching "Call It A Loan," co-written by David Lindley, and followed this up with "Giving the Heaven Away," a song, he explained, based on a letter he received out of the blue from a women he knew for one day "at a rock festival about 40 years ago." "Pages Turning," "Late For The Sky," "I Am A Child," and "For A Dancer" were a few of the songs played in the first set, which also included "Tokyo Girl" performed by guitarist Val McCullum. The one true "rock" moment came when Browne actually stood as if really fronting a band. "We have few rules in this show, but when someone calls out 'Doctor My Eyes,' we have to do that," he said, launching into a rowdy version of the song that brought the audience to its feet.
If there was a persistent theme and feeling to the first half of the show it was sadness. But these slower numbers also afforded witness to the clarity that comes with seeing a fine artist still on top of his game. Browne's voice isn't what it was during his 1970s heyday, but his command of emotion and that special cadence that makes a Jackson Browne song go down so easily was swallowed up the audience. It was pleasurable to follow the intricate lyrical storytelling as it unfolded, accentuated by the occasional influx of guitar leads or pounding piano chords, even if those tales weren't always so cheery.
The second set was decidedly more up-tempo and rocking, in the 1970s laidback California stoner rock way enjoyed by artists like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and, of course, Browne. Tracks like "Running on Empty," "The Pretender," and "Redneck Friend" had Browne on his feet fronting the band in full rock and roll mode. He did slip in some mellower moments, such as "Shape of a Heart" and "No Matter How Fast I Run."
"I was about to congratulate myself," Browne joked before opening the encore with "These Days." "Tonight we did all the right songs."
A surprise encore included a rousing version of The Eagles "Take It Easy." "Part of this song was written in Arizona," he explained before kicking it off. "I don't know what Glenn Frey was thinking when he wrote it."
Browne added a second encore as well, keeping the audience on its feet right through a show closing "Before The Deluge." This mellower, power ballad brought the evening back full circle, leaving the audience whole and satisfied.
Last Night: Jackson Browne, Orpheum Theatre
Personal Bias: Always enjoyed certain songs, but never a huge fan.
Audience: Mix of old hippies and soft rock fans of many ages.
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Celebrity sighting: Crime fighter and action figure Steven Seagal sitting directly in front of me. (He left after the first set.)
Overheard: By my friend, about Seagal: "Man, that dude was thick. His head was like a bowling ball stuck on there."