Review: Jackson Browne plays LA’s Orpheum Theatre

Last night I attended by first Jackson Browne concert (yes, really!) at the Orpheum Theatre here in “beautiful” downtown Los Angeles. The downtown may not have been beautiful but the theater certainly was a sight to see. Many thanks to Karen of the Jackson Browne Yahoo! Mailing List who had some extra tickets after the show sold out. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list. It’s a friendly and talkative group (although be prepared for political discussions), and they’ve been posting far better reviews then you’ll read right now.

The set list was the same as has been previously reported. The band line-up was the same as well, and the same that played on his new album Time The Conqueror: Mark Goldenberg (guitars), Alethea Mills (vocals), Chavonne Morris (vocals), Mauricio “Fritz” Lewak (drums), Jeff Young (keyboards, vocals) and Kevin McCormick (bass). The only difference was the surprise guest appearances by former band mate Scott Thurston, who jumped on keyboards for “The Pretender” and “Running On Empty” (and also supplied vocals for the latter), and Ben Harper, who played lap slide guitar for the encore number “I Am A Patriot”.

The whole night had a loose and relaxed feel to it. It’s always a treat getting to see an artist play on their home turf. There was definitely a home-coming vibe to the night. Jackson periodically waved and smiled to familiar faces in the audience. (Running On Empty backup vocalist Rosemary Butler was spotted leaving the show with a smile on her face, to name-drop just once.) Jackson frequently talked about local landmarks and haunts where he wrote certain songs, as though he were letting us in on an inside-joke. While this tour was in support of his new album Time The Conqueror, Jackson appeared unconquered by time. His voice remains almost unchanged, with only occasional hints at age-induced limitations.

Jackson casually walked on stage, with his band following, to a standing ovation. While focusing on the album’s new material, he also turned in truly memorable performances of his classics, such as the excellent first set closer, “Doctor My Eyes” joined with the lesser-known “About My Imagination”. These two songs from either end of his career at first seemed disjointed, but the transcendent build to the second song’s climax, primarily due to the soulful and spirited jousting between Alethea Mills and Chavonne Morris, eliminated all doubt to the choice of marrying these two songs. The second set opened with “Something Fine,” which highlighted the criminally under-appreciated guitar playing of Jackson Browne. “Lives in the Balance” was among the most powerful moments of the night, with the audience moved to applause on each transition to the chorus, including the new third verse and its reference to 9/11. Again, Mills and Morris stepped out and elevated the song to a new level, along with an inspired Middle Eastern-tinged solo by Mark Goldenberg. By the time the enthusiastic Scott Thurston was brought on stage for “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” most of the audience was on their feet.

Lesser known songs also stood out. “Everywhere I Go” brought an unexpected yet authentic reggae flavor to the show. “Culver Moon” revealed a funky side to Jackson Browne, with Jeff Young providing an inspired organ part that would make Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” proud. An extended version of “I Am A Patriot” ended the show, with a surprising rap by Kevin McCormick, a smoking solo by Ben Harper (who also had an all too brief vocal parry with Mills and Morris), a delightful reference to the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing”, and a call to “vote for change”.

The true challenge of the night was whether the new songs would hold up to the tried and tested older material. “Off of Wonderland” fit in wonderfully and I think will hold up for some time to come. “Time the Conqueror” suffered from some slide guitar work that felt a bit clumsy but was otherwise as good as the album version. “Live Nude Caberet” benefited from a very entertaining introduction about where it was written, but the sedate and meditative tone didn’t seem to live up to the funny set-up. “Going Down to Cuba” was warmly received and justifiably so, as Jeff Young’s piano danced around the spine of the song. “The Drums of War,” which was punctuated by Mauricio Lewak’s sharp strike, elicited applause at the climax of the bridge’s series of questions. “Just Say Yeah” had the most significant improvement from the recorded version, lifting up to a breezier and much more charming love letter. For the most part, the Time The Conqueror material came off strong and compelling, earning their place among Jackson Browne’s impressive canon.

Have you seen Jackson Browne on his Time The Conqueror Tour? If so, add your own review or thoughts in the comments.

(Photo by Paul Bushmann)


About Corey Blake

Corey Blake does things on the Internet, and sometimes even in real life.
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