The world has seen many changes since Jackson Browne released his first self-titled album in 1972 but his hairstyle has remained the same. The man with the most consistent hairstyle in rock’n’roll may look a little greyer these days (no pun intended) and a little frailer at 67 years old but his voice was solid, smooth and unmistakable. As this was his first Australian tour since releasing his 2014 album Into The Breach, as expected he favoured this album quite heavily in his 2 set, 20 plus song performance but the old classics thankfully appeared, as it was clear by the audience response that these songs were what they really came to hear.
Browne was in high spirits, interacting with call outs from the audience and responding to seemingly random requests. I say seemingly random because the band were so well versed in them that I’m sure that they were fully expecting to play them given that the set lists leading up to this final show on his Australian tour had not strayed far from the core 20 plus songs that we heard tonight. Highlights included a stirring rendition of These Days, a song he wrote as a 16 year old that was made famous by Nico after she recorded it for her album Chelsea Girl and in more recent times, Drake. Jackson actually joked that he was recently given a link to a website that cited “5 versions of These Days that are better than Drake’s” – needless to say, he made the cut. Despite stumbling on the order of the verses momentarily, he recovered with good humour and let the genius of his songwriting shine through. Following up with Somebody’s Baby was just what the crowd needed to come alive as they knew they were lucky to hear it on this tour given that it hadn’t been played at any of the other shows. New band members Shane Fontayne (Graham Nash’s guitarist and producer) on guitar and Greg Leisz (who I have loved ever since hearing his guitar on Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album in the early ‘90s) on guitars, lap steel and pedal steel really brought the songs to life, together with his regular posse of Bob Glaub on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Jeff Young on keys and soaring backing vocals from Alethea Mills.
The second half of the show ramped up the nostalgia a notch as he talked about Warren Zevon fondly before launching into his cover of Carmelita. For someone whose songs have been so widely covered throughout his career as a songwriter, it was a special moment to hear him play a song that he hadn’t penned himself but obviously meant a lot to him. He told of living in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles as a struggling writer at one time, which was where Zevon had written the song back in the days before the wave of hipster gentrification and coffee culture.
Not backing down from his passion for the environment, the night was not without political comment. He referenced the Abbott government and his concern for the lack of preservation measures being taken on the Great Barrier Reef. Having relatives in Byron Bay and a new niece being born that week in nearby Foster he has obviously immersed himself in the local environmental concerns in his many visits here and wanted to let us know what was happening right here in our own backyard.
After a couple of false starts, the crescendo moment of the night was Sky Blue and Black, in which he explained his stumbling in starting it as being a result of having a need to summon a song like that. The physical world that encroached upon Jackson and his piano was apparently a mug of hot tea that he had poised in front of him. Once that was gone he was away, and like a bolting horse heading for home, he rolled on into The Pretender, Doctor My Eyes, straight into Running on Empty to close out the second set. The crowd was well and truly on its feet by now and definitely got what they came to hear. The 2 song encore consisted of cuts from his 1973 album For Everyman – an emotional version of Take it Easy, a song that the late Glenn Frey helped him finish and subsequently made it an Eagles standard, closing out the night with Our Lady of the Well.
I’m sure people were expecting The Load Out/Stay as the final song but I personally am glad he didn’t do that one as I’ve never been a huge fan of it. I think he played the perfect set list for both him and for the audience.