Concert Review: Jackson Browne

The Pearl, Feb. 15

Still boyish at 64, the singer/songwriter whose music defines the huge struggles and slim triumphs of the baby-boomer generation, sat down at a piano. Browne opened with “Black and White” from 1986’s Lives in the Balance. The song served as a doubt-wracked counterpoint to Browne’s political material on that album. Here, it set the tone for an evening dedicated to exploring loss in all its shades and then rising up. Browne didn’t stand until the bittersweet end of a three-hour set at the Pearl. Stool-perched, switching among variously tuned acoustic guitars, he coolly and emotionally delivered his hits plus some deep cuts and surprises. (A couple of his musicians performed their own originals.) His band is superb: Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith on bass/keys, guitarist Val MacCallum, drummer Fritz Lewak and two backup singers. They were about to launch into “For Taking the Trouble,” when a woman’s voice from the front pierced the quiet: “My father died last night. Will you play ‘For a Dancer’?” Browne doesn’t do requests, but after test-strumming his guitar, he said, “Sure, let’s do it now.” He returned to the piano, and it was hard to keep one’s eyes dry when he sang: I don’t know what happens when people die/Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try/It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear/That I can’t sing. After an intermission, the second set offered a truckin’ triptych of Danny Kortchmar’s “Shaky Town,” “Redneck Friend” and “Doctor My Eyes”—the last one written by Browne when he was 21. He finally rose and strapped on a guitar to encore with “Running on Empty” and “Take It Easy.” Back on the piano, he concluded with “Before the Deluge”: Let the music keep our spirits high. For the gray-haired boomers, it was a prayer. ★★★★☆

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