Humphreys By The Bay, September 30, 2010
At the end of the strangest week of Southern California weather, it was unclear at sunset whether the faithful would be sitting in the rain for Jackson Browne’s show at Humphrey’s. But the skies dried, the staff dried the chairs and no one was disappointed.
Browne had been touring all summer with long time compadre David Lindley, and they chose to wind up the summer with a return engagement at one of the finest outdoor venues in the region.
Browne and Lindley’s history spans decades, and they settled onstage in a comfortable living room setting: two sturdy chairs and banks of acoustic guitars. The first hour of the 3 hour show was entirely acoustic, and Browne took the primary lead pulling songs from his deep catalog of riches. In his usual fashion, Browne changed up his setlist, at least once leaning to whisper a title to Lindley.
Browne chose to frame the show with two poignant songs from a couple of the best songwriters from New Jersey. The evening’s second song was Springsteen’s semi-obscure “Brothers Under the Bridge,” a wrenching story of a Vietnam vet’s return stateside. The penultimate song of the evening was Little Steven’s “I Am A Patriot,” an affirming declaration of loyalty in the face of naysayers.
Although Browne’s vocals have never had a broad range, his voice remains as solid and as expressive as heard on his debut. In fact, he pulled a few gems from the debut album, including the perfectly appropriate “Rock Me On the Water.” All performers at Humphreys take a moment to acknowledge the boaters who float next door, and Browne teased them about the forty bucks they each owe him.
Before intermission, Browne left the stage to Lindley for a couple solo numbers. Lindley looked every bit the mad professor, wild hair and spectacles, hunched over his bank of strangely familiar instruments, pulling divergent yet compelling sounds and howling his lyrics.
Browne returned with a full band, which he called his best ever. Alternating from electric piano to guitar, Browne framed his songs with pithy introductions. Browne has always been a brave performer, wearing his heart on his sleeve despite any embarrassment. He is often credited with being the first artist to release a live album of entirely new material (although Neil Young did that earlier), and Browne’s recent pair of live solo acoustic albums are glorious. Browne has managed the improbable ability to perform a steady schedule of benefit shows while undertaking a lucrative touring schedule. His Humphrey’s show was the end of his tour, but lucky fans will be able to track him down in a series of upcoming fundraisers.
The highlights at Humphrey’s included “In the Shape of a Heart” and “The Pretender.” The effectiveness of the latter’s lyrics never cease to amaze me; despite its buoyant melody the song is actually self-deprecating for both Browne and the audience who sings along.
“Fountain of Sorrow” was given an especially poignant rendition, and the core lyrical observation still rings painfully true: ‘but when you see through love’s illusions / there lies the danger.’
The inevitable encore for the tour-ending show was the poignant “The Load Out / Stay.” Browne drew the song out for about 15 minutes, perfectly reflecting the singer’s melancholy of leaving the stage.
Browne has established himself as one of the generation’s premier singer – songwriters. He has laid open his heart and mind and self-doubt like few others, and he has been rewarded with a devoted fan base. He certainly still causes the ladies to swoon with his chiseled unchanged good looks, the painting must still be in the attic of his boyhood home in Orange County.