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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jackson Browne @ The Riverside Theater

July 15, 2014

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One might not know it from most of the songs he sang Tuesday night at the Riverside Theater, but Jackson Browne can be rather funny.

It's doubtful that anyone bought a ticket to his performance expecting an aesthetic equivalent to a night at the Comedy Cafe, but between many of generous number of songs from throughout his solo career spanning 14 albums over 42 years, Browne displayed a sense of humor about his work and life largely absent from the songs that have earned him the kind of sold-out audiences he attracted at the Riverside Tuesday.

The contrast between his palaver and his lyrics was made all the more apparent by his accompaniment to his most of those numbers. His own playing of a baby grand piano or one of the line of electric and acoustic guitars nearly as wide as the stage created a mood underlined by the sort of self-prepossession and biographical narrative that marked much of the ’70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter culture of which he remains an artistically active survivor.

This setting played well to the non-pop hit album cuts comprising most of his two sets, whereby his frequently complex chording, especially on his keyboard, fit the spiritually seeking sentiments of his tunes. Whether it was his express intention to lighten up the psychic weight of all that psychic rumination, his aforementioned interstitial shtick was much made for appreciable leaven to the material’s heavy mood.

During one occurrence, Browne delivered commentary during a tune. An overeager fan's use of a distracting camera prompted a slight chiding just as he began "These Days"—he referenced Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico's recording of it and its use in The Royal Tenenbaums by way of introduction—that, in turn, prompted reflections on how life doesn't always improve in tandem with technological advances and about his enjoyment of a YouTube clip of late blues singer Magic Sam. Humor played a more active part in the show in some of his interactions with patrons in the seats calling out requests, which Browne encouraged. One such encouragement for him to sing his favorite Warren Zevon song resulted in the evening's funniest musical moments, a rendition of the acerbically witty tunesmith's "Life'll Kill Ya." A piano flub or two early in his first set elicited titters, too, but Browne recovered quickly, none the worse for the trouble.

The room's atmosphere brightened considerably once someone requested "Running On Empty." The rhythmic pulse of one of his signature songs prompted hand clapping, and Browne nodded to the crowd to sing for themselves a line from its bridge. A guitarist joining him on 1972 breakthrough single "Doctor My Eyes" brought about more joviality. Both songs' themes of grasping toward reconciliation with no promise of same didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirit, least of all Browne's. The height of applause and interaction came with his belated fulfillment of a request to play his favorite Eagles song. Naturally enough, it would be the band's debut smash he co-wrote, "Take It Easy"; the theater full of Baby Boomers and their kin chimed in with "woo oo oo"'s and the heartiest of claps.

A brief set of encores closed the night with relative obscurities, just as Browne had earlier acknowledged he was in a frame of mind to revisit. The inaccessibility of most of his songs choices on oldies and classic rock FM's obviously hasn't dimmed the appreciation of a considerable fan base nor the man who continues to sing for a generation coming into its dotage.