Report: Jackson Browne in Ft. Lauderdale

 

Amid shouted song
requests and a multitude of moistened sighs from the females in the audience,
the Dorian Gray of rock ‘n’ roll took things easy, his way, on May 21 at the
Au-Rene Theater.

 

By Lee Zimmerman

Jackson Browne makes it look so easy. One could almost
begrudge the fact that playing an acoustic concert that allows him to select
songs on the fly is a really effortless way to earn a paycheck, and a hefty one
at that. Seated on the stage of the sumptuous Au-Rene Theater and fronting a
line-up of no less than 17 guitars that stood at the ready (the majority of
which were apparently tuned but never used), Browne made a point of noting that
his sets are spontaneous and never wholly planned in advance. Instead, he
noted, they were based on the vibe conveyed by the different audiences he
encounters every night. Not surprisingly then, the entire evening Browne was
peppered by requests shouted out from the far reached of the multi-tiered
auditorium as well as notes handed him from the first row.

 

Ever the charmer – and the eternal lady’s man, given that
the sighs from the females were audible throughout most of the night – Browne
appeared to pay heed, casually commenting on the suggestions and offering
anecdotes between most of the selections. No sooner had he finished a song
before he was up and out of his chair and sauntering over to his guitar arsenal,
carefully considering his next instrument of choice. Oftentimes he opted to sit
at the electric piano, where he positioned himself for at least half of the
two-dozen or so songs in his set. The nearly sold-out audience seemed thrilled
with the majority of his choices, particularly following the intermission when
he rolled out a veritable roll call of crowd pleasers, from “For Everyman,”
through “Running on Empty,” “Sky Blue and Black,” “Rosie,” “For a Dancer” and
eventually culminating in what is ultimately the most requested song of the
night – and one of the few upbeat entries at that – “Take It Easy.”  When he remarked that his pal Don Henley
chose that tune to join in an impromptu duet a few weeks earlier, Browne
expressed his astonishment and the rest of us secretly envied the fact we
hadn’t been as fortunate.

 

The fact is, most of the material keeps to a uniformly
melancholy malaise, written by a poet still in his early twenties at the time
and flush with idealism even as he was attempting to balance the optimism of
the ‘60s spirit with the hard reality that the age of innocence had begun to
fracture in the face of growing responsibility, external strife and, of course,
the struggle to retain romance in a world so determined to tear it asunder. Yet,
Browne’s songs continue to inspire despite their downcast sentiments, serving
as anthems for the disenfranchised and benchmarks for an entire generation
still struggling to find its way in the world. The stripped down, bare boned
treatments – a striking contrast to the rich arrangements accorded the studio
versions – often only hinted at the more familiar renditions and gave ample
cause for the audience to fill in the missing elements on their own. “I’m in
need of a drummer,” Browne confessed at one point, and the crowd offered a
collective nod in agreement. At another juncture, during the sing-along chorus
of “Running On Empty,” the crowd offered up the obligatory shout-out “I don’t
know about anyone but me,” which Browne was apparently ready to omit due to the
constraints of singing it solo. Hearing it referenced, he smiled with
amusement. Indeed, after two consecutive South Florida appearances playing solo
(he last played Miami Beach’s Fillmore in the same manner), it would be nice to
catch him next time with a band in tow.

 

Browne later referred to the fact that the show is in fact
generally open-ended, a seemingly effortless performance that embraces
approximately two dozen songs (including the two saved for the encore) all of
which suggests he barely works up a sweat. (For the record, he sat the entire
time save approximately 30 seconds where he briefly stood in deference to the
rocking refrain of “Take It Easy” before quickly retaking his chair. “So is
there any difference between hearing these songs here or hearing them in my
house?” he asked rhetorically. “Here I’m less likely to stop in the middle of a
song to get up and make myself a sandwich.”

 

Remarkably though, however off-handed, Browne’s lost none of
the youthful timbre that’s continues to characterize his vocals. Listening to
some bootlegs of concerts recorded early on in his career during our drive to
the show, it’s striking to note how much he sounds the same, and for that
matter, how little his approach has changed over the past 40 years. Browne is
the Dorian Gray of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and watching him from the back rows of the
lower orchestra, he still seems to closely resemble that youthful minstrel with
the pageboy hairdo that graced the cover of his eponymous debut. For a man of
62, he gives the men in his audience – most of which are approaching the same
age – reason for both envy and astonishment.

 

 

 

           
 

 

 

 

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