Armed with only his trusty ax – actually, 23 of them – and keyboard, Browne worked his way through what appeared to be an impromptu set list Thursday at the Uptown. Shout out a song title and he just might play it; if not: stay, just a little bit longer.
Opening with that by-now familiar anthem, Browne plowed through tunes from a whole passel of his 12 or so original and another seven or eight greatest hits/live albums.
Jumping from piano to a beautiful Martin dreadnought, Browne intoned the mournful “The Barricades of Heaven” from his 1996 release Looking East. That segued into the somewhat more uptempo “Giving That Heaven Away” from 2008’s Time Conqueror, an album that would see a few more selections as the evening wore on.
Jackson Browne is not a jovial tunesmith– by his own admission, his material is pretty dour and sorrowful. Sure, “Take It Easy” is a happy hit (Browne “got it over with” early in Act Two). And “The Pretender,” which took him back to the piano, had a nice, rockin groove. But “Fountain of Sorrows” from 1974’s Late for the Sky, “Sky Black and Blue” from I’m Alive, and “The Bird of St Marks”– all played on a booming piano– sent us back to the brooding Browne we came for.
Browne offered up some great patter. When “Here Come Those Tears Again” got the call from the boisterous crowd, the balladeer asked if we wanted to hear the country version– and gave it up with his biggest smile of the set. We learned that the rockin “Shakytown” from Running On Empty was a tune Browne always wanted to write– except guitarist/ James Taylor buddy Danny Kortchmar got there first.
And the hits– “Doctor My Eyes,” “Running on Empty,” “Late for the Sky,” “Something Fine”– just kept on coming as Jackson shifted from the Martin to a black Strat, a beautiful Gibson flat-top, even a National steel guitar he slided (as opposed to slid) around with style.
Long an out-spoken supporter of progressive causes, Browne chose the rousing “I Am a Patriot” from his World in Motion album for a first encore the day before the 4th of July. The proceedings came to a plaintive close with “Before the Deluge” back on the piano where this troubadour started the night.
Great show. Great venue. Great way to start a holiday weekend.