Jackson Browne Walmart Arkansas Music Amphitheater Cox Concert Series Rogers, Arkansas Saturday, October 17, 2015
I love nostalgia. It is the romance in my thought and it indeed had its way with me seeing Jackson Browne. The problem with nostalgia is it will never be 1974 again and I will never hear Late for the Sky for the first time again. Nevertheless, the diptych of "For a Dancer" and "Fountain of Sorrow" was enough to spin my fragile psyche into its inevitable time warp and I again breathed the air of 18-years old again.
David Lindley is long gone and that said, Browne has managed to surround himself with the finest band I can recall, his Running on Empty group notwithstanding. Browne took on as both bandmates and opening act of Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. Who are they? Did you not manage to see Ain't In It For My Health? Levon Helm... Midnight Ramble... Electric Dirt... Hello? Campbell was musical director for Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble (where he met Browne) for the decade prior to Helm's death in 2012. His wife and partner, singer/composer Teresa Williams was also along for that magic carpet ride and now the two play double duty with Browne.
Campbell and Williams opened the show playing selections from their eponymous recording released this spring, showcasing Campbell's fine sandpaper voice and his command of every instruments he plays. Williams has a refined West- Tennessee voice that sounds so close to my Arkansas own to be welcoming and familiar. The two amply demonstrated their musicality on stringed instruments and with voice. Campbell on his own "Ain't Nobody for Me" and Williams on the closing traditional "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" offered a seamless continuation of the Americana made with Helm. Backed by Browne's band, Campbell and Williams made for an eastern rustic contrast to Browne's western sensibility.
Browne came on stage and was full of surprises. This was not to be a warm stroll through the past on a too-cool North Arkansas October night. He opened with the relatively recent "The Barricades of Heaven" from Browne's 1996 Looking East (Elektra). Browne established early that he was not going to dwell long in the far past. He followed "Barricades" with "Just Say Yeah," (Time the Conqueror (Inside, 2008)), "The Long Way Around" and "Leaving Winslow" (both from Standing in the Breach (Inside, 2014)). It was only then, that Browne reached all the way back to perhaps his most exquisite song, "These Days," revealing his next surprise. Browne and his band had retooled the time and rhythm, tightening the focus on old notes and Browne sang with a sardonic melancholy that betrayed his becoming equal amounts musician, activist, and businessman. That said, the transformation of the old piece into new was both welcome and renewing. Some lyrics never get old.
Breaking the seal on the vintage, Browne summoned "For Everyman" replete with the magnificent drum coda courtesy of long-time drummer Mauricio Lewak. "My Opening Farewell" from what can only be known as Saturate before Using (Asylum, 1972) took us all the way back to the beginning, when Browne was establishing himself as the Bard of Southern California. But Browne was not the only Bard of Southern California. There was another one, an antithetical one, also existed in Warren Zevon. Zevon was always the flip side of the SoCal coin and two minds could scarcely have been so different. Browne has included a Zevon composition in every show since Zevon's death in 2003 (along with another rogue poet, Johnny Cash). This concert, he included Zevon's "Mama Couldn't be Persuaded" from Zevon's breakout 1967 self-titled recording on Asylum that gave us, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Hasten Down the Wind," "Carmalita," and I'll Sleep Shen I'm Dead." It was a nice gesture well performed.
Browne met the meat of the concert with "I'm Alive," "For a Dancer." And "Fountain of Sorrow." These songs offered Browne the opportunity to show off multiple-instrumentalist Greg Leisz's lap-steel guitar on the latter and Larry Campbell's lonesome fiddle on the former. These, like "These Days" were recast crisply and delivered off-hand. It is no longer 1974. Browne's more recent and more activist-oriented material, like "Which Side" and "If I could be Anywhere" carry with them the fragrance of Pete Seeger singing about malignant capitalism to the tune of "Kumbaya." And that will be the most unkind thing I will say of the new material. "Standing in the Breech," however shared a whisper of the old Browne renewed, making that recording important in its own right.
"Doctor My Eyes," "Running on Empty," "Take It Easy -Our Lady of the Well" ended the show properly, all performed with fresh arrangements and expert support by Campbell and Williams. Had he left it there, the show would have been a grand success, but he closed with "Somebody's Baby" from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Universal Films, 1982). Better that than "Lawyers in Love" but not one song from The Pretender. That was curious.
Musicians: Jackson Browne: vocals, guitar, piano; Bob Glaub: bass, Mauricio Lewak: drums, Jeff Young: Hammond organ, piano, Greg Leisz: guitar, lap steel, pedal steel guitar, mandolin; Larry Campbell: guitar, mandolin violin, vocals; Teresa Williams: background vocals, Alethea Mills: background vocals.
Setlist: The Barricades of Heaven; Just Say Yeah; The Long Way Around; Leaving Winslow; These Days; For Everyman; My Opening Farewell; Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded; I'm Alive; For a Dancer; Fountain of Sorrow; Which Side?; If I Could Be Anywhere; Standing in the Breach; Looking Into You; Doctor My Eyes; Running on Empty; Take It Easy; Our Lady of the Well; Somebody's Baby.