Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall, 27th June 2017

Jackson Browne still manages to maintain a looming presence upon the musical landscape well into a music career that has seen him releasing solo material since the dawning of the early 1970’s. I say “still”; simply because it is a joy to witness the kind of artist that is capable of packing out the Birmingham Symphony Hall on account of merit, rather than some desperate attempt to lure an audience via the plethora of social media outlets or afternoon slots on daytime television which signal the beginning of the end.

You simply will not catch Jackson Browne resorting to such tactics. There is a genuine integrity to the way in which he has carried himself all these years. The formula is really rather simple: quality songwriting and a genuine enthusiasm for producing the best version of yourself that you can possibly achieve. This is wholly apparent following this evening’s performance – oh, and in addition to the aforementioned formula, there is also the stunning voice married with the thoroughly engaging anecdotes that preface most of tonight’s setlist.

When an artist maintains such levels of dedication to the privilege of performing to others, it is no surprise to hear the circling chatter amongst those in attendance prior to the start of the show debating the likely setlist, having done their research on what has been played at Browne’s more recent shows. Some will be seeing Browne for the first time, but for the contingent surrounding me, this will be the umpteenth time of seeing their musical hero – the group behind, having travelled to Alaska, yes, Alaska for a show – that’s some dedication, a sentiment reciprocated once Browne and the longstanding group that make up his backing band take to the stage.

Tonight’s set is comprised of two parts, both of which manage to squeeze around ten songs into each slot. Browne opens with a torrent of songs which tumble from the stunningly lit stage: ‘Just Say Yeah’, ‘The Long Way Around’ and ‘Before the Deluge’ arrive and are graciously received by the Birmingham audience.

As anticipated, Browne makes no attempt to curb his political opinions, and it’s no surprise to hear Browne touch upon the political landscape in which the world currently finds itself. This signals the first cover of the evening as Browne readies himself for a performance of Randy Newman’s politically charged ‘A Piece of the Pie’, a song which affectionately mocks Browne himself, a note he is quick to reference along with, and most humorously, at the culmination of the song, that “it was meant to sound like that”, a reference to the comedic and calamitous timing employed by Newman.

The band has to be on their toes as Browne maintains his dedication to making each show a unique undertaking for all concerned. The audience is fully aware that should their request land favourably with Browne, they will be rewarded by not only hearing their request, but also taking pride in having played their part in shaping the experience for those in attendance.

The audiences’ requests reverberate around the hall at those momentary pauses between songs. Many will fail in their endeavours, but there will be those fortunate ones who offer up a request that chimes with Browne’s mindset, or simply awaken in him a feeling which he must exorcise through the music. This is most poignant following the request for ‘That Girl Could Sing’. Upon hearing this, Browne is flawed, and let’s out an enormous sigh, before striding to the piano, insistent the song is played to commemorate the muse of its creation, Valerie Carter, a once backing singer to Browne, and sometime lover who sadly passed away last year.

Another departed soul to have touched the life of Browne is Warren Zevon. He is honoured by his friend with a performance of the Zevon penned ‘Carmelita’. As the latter part of the setlist is upon us, Browne and company offer up ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Running on Empty ‘ before an encore that includes ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Our Lady of the Well’. The room, already on their feet, bestow a rousing applause upon tonight’s performers. They have been treated to a masterful display in musicianship and most importantly, a genuine and enthused performance from a true artist.

 

Review: Chris Curtis

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