Redemption looms large in his music. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Jackson Browne is forever redeeming himself: to critics who prematurely cast him aside, to trends he’s transcended and to fans who may have left him behind with their LP collections. But more than four decades after humbly closing his first album with “My Opening Farewell,” his influence, his songs and his career endure.
The quintessential 1970s LA singer/songwriter was a long way from home and his heyday but an energized and expectant crowd packed Connecticut’s Oakdale Theatre for a solo acoustic show with enough emotional resonance to electrify the hall like an AC/DC concert. Armed with 24 guitars, a piano and a wealth of material, Browne was captivating from the opening note – his familiar plaintive voice flooding the arena like a warm embrace. And the audience responded in kind.
Browne has always been a strong live performer who bonds powerfully with his fans. (It’s easy to forget that his bestselling album, Running on Empty, was primarily a “live” collection of new songs.) His natural charm and humor help as does his gift of enabling the listener to feel good about feeling bad. But more than that, he seems to possess a great and unique ability to materialize both the swelling tide of memories and the awakening sense of discovery – at the same time.
As with both Solo Acoustic albums (Vol. 1 in 2005 and Vol. 2 in 2008), Browne draws inspiration from the fans, inviting them to shape his set list – which they did. As Browne explained on Vol. 2, “I’m kinda drawn to do those songs that you call for that I might not have done in a while that I don’t know that I’ll get through – but it’s more exciting for me in a way… At least I don’t forget the same stuff every night.”
The set list, equal in number to his arsenal of guitars, included a healthy sampling of early years including the eponymous debut and the immortal “Late for the Sky” as well as a few from the forthcoming Standing in the Breach. Through the melancholy and joy and the personal and social politics, the style hasn’t changed much in 40-plus years. Just a lot of good old-fashioned songwriting. But the palpable love and sense of intimacy generated this night by Browne amongst a few thousand disparate souls was a rare and memorable treat.
In reviewing his 1972 debut album, Rolling Stone said Browne’s “songs are capable of generating a highly charged, compelling atmosphere throughout, and, just as important, of sustaining that pitch in the listener’s mind long after they’ve ended.”
This one may last for years.
– Derek Meade
All photos by Derek Meade