"Legend" is a word that gets misused regularly in connection with artists who have spent relatively little time basking in the midday sun of the media glare. Not the case when you consider Jackson Browne and his expansive career that has covered 5 decades of musical highs in tandem with his ideals and involvement in conservationist and political activities. Arriving back in Ireland after an absence of 7 years, he thanks the capacity crowd for making him feel so welcome on his return, together with his band of sublime players who have travelled for this sold out 4-night residency at the always impressive Vicar Street venue.
We are looking at musicians with massive experience and consummate talents and a backing singer that can lift the song arrangements to a new height when she is given flight. Accompanying Jackson are long-time bandmates Val McCallum (guitar), Mauricio Lewak (Drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (Vocals) and the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). In a word, stunning.
Night One: The first night is laced with songs that please everyone, young and old, with a first set taken mainly from more recent releases and the second set focused on old favourites. Jackson is in great spirits and communicates with ease between songs as he responds to audience requests. He has a keen sense of humour and the little boy still shines brightly from his eyes as he recalls stories from his past and explains the origins of songs played. There were 21 songs in total, including the cover song Walls & Doors (Carlos Varela), A Child In These Hills, I’ll Do Anything, Fountain Of Sorrow and a nightly encore of Take It Easy, the song that in some ways started his career all those years ago in 1970’s California.
The seasoned touch brought to each song is just a joy to witness as the band play off each other in a knowing fashion that brings smiles all around. Twin guitarists Leisz and McCallum really shine when colouring the arrangements with dextrous solos and subtle touches while the inventive paying of Glaub & Lewak propel everything along with a rhythm and groove that is really impressive. Jeff Young adds rich keyboard swells in addition to providing high harmonies with Jackson on most songs. Jackson is singing really well and his performance on Late For The Sky is one of the best I have witnessed over the years of seeing him play live.
Night Two: We are treated to another set of 21 songs but on this occasion, there are 9 changes to the previous night, many as a result of audience requests. If anything, he runs the risk of letting the audience dictate too much and his changing mood to the numerous requests can lead to a few moments of confusion among the band members. In the main however he pulls it all off with consummate ease; after all, he is playing to a ‘home crowd’ and can do no wrong! My Stunning Mystery Companion, Something Fine, Our Lady Of The Well, Farther On and Lawyers, Guns & Money (Warren Zevon) all get a rousing reaction.
Sky Blue & Black is a real show stopper tonight and the reggae lilt of the Little Steven song I Am A Patriot has everyone wishing for a more rock driven direction with up-tempo material. As Jackson says there are moments when he can sense a crowd thinking "enough of this sensitive shit"…
When it comes to nailing the personal with a universal perspective then nobody comes close; he just hones his craft to produce beautiful words that mirror our own experience in the continuous struggle to walk this road of life with Everyman.
Night Three: Tonight 20 songs are performed and although there will be many cross-overs from the basic set there is still room for new renditions with 5 songs not played on previous nights. There is a particularly poignant tribute to his old friend Valerie Carter who passed away recently with the inclusion of Love Needs A Heart and That Girl Could Sing bringing a touchingly strong performance from all involved. Each night has seen Just Say Yeah and Long Way Around open the show and Doctor My Eyes, Your Bright Baby Blues, Boulevard and Somebody’s Baby are also ever-presents. The somewhat dubious pairing of Rosie and Red Neck Friend as back-to-back songs leave some in the audience smiling with a wry resignation, but the joy of hearing Barricades Of Heaven, Sky Blue and Black, Shape Of A Heart and Running On Empty all played in succession, as the performance built to its climax, more than made up for any dip in tempo previously.
Night Four: And those of us who have been ever-present are in the end stages of conflicting emotions as this richly indulgent experience winds down and we say goodbye to one of the icons in defining the musical map of so many who have been touched by his muse for so many years. Tonight sees 18 songs performed as the second set is shortened due to pressure in catching a ferry to England for the next part of the tour. This is a disappointment to the vociferous crowd who are, by a distance, the most noisy and boisterous of the four nights – uncomfortably so to many who paid good money to listen to the artist himself and not the inane conversations of those who repeatedly try to shout/talk above the songs…
Call It A Loan, The Pretender, For Everyman and I’m Alive are all played with power and majesty while Before The Deluge moves everyone to sing along with a special feeling of unison. A cover version of the Warren Zevon song Carmelita is a very welcome surprise as the set winds down.
The great song traveller is someone that Jackson referred to on his debut album and spoke about how his eyes were opened to the view. Well, he has become that very same great song traveller and has graced us with his humanism and empathetic perspective on our journey through this mortal coil.
He has been the ‘older brother’ for a generation of youth growing into maturity in the 1970’s; verbalising our doubts and fears as we matured into adulthood. Younger fans may see him as a knowing uncle who dispenses sage advice and wisdom. His more strident days of taking overt political stances during the show seem to be behind him now and we are seeing a more circumspect performer who wants to let his beautiful melodies and words do all his talking.
We can look back to realise that he is indeed the muse for so many lives that have followed his path of striving to care for our fellow man and trying to do the right thing by the planet we live upon.
It was a privilege!
Note: For those who want to see the full set lists on each evening, go to www.setist.fm where you will be rewarded!
Review: Paul McGee
Photography: Vincent Lennon & Paul McGee