More than 46 years since “Doctor My Eyes” earned Jackson Browne his first hit, so little has changed with the laid-back California guy.
Same slender frame. Same floppy hair (albeit gray has finally found him). Same pleasant voice and heartfelt delivery. Same strength in his convictions.
He also has the same commitment to performing, whether it’s with his full band – as it will be this summer – or this short acoustic tour, which pulled into Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Monday night.
Returning to Atlanta for the first time since a show at Chastain in 2015, Browne, 70, was joined by mellifluous vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart and acclaimed guitarist Greg Leisz, who added depth and texture to Browne’s compositions with his expert lap steel work.
The only unpleasant consequence of such a quiet, intimate setting was the mindset of many in the sold-out crowd who believed Browne was there to serve as their personal jukebox (and of COURSE those signs stationed throughout the lobby about “absolutely no photography or videotaping allowed during performances” didn’t apply to you, people whose entitlement was the priority of the concert).
Browne gamely attempted diplomacy in response to the barrage of titles being shouted at him in between songs, which began as soon as he finished the words to the openers “Some Bridges” and “Something Fine.”
“It’s a little early in the evening for me to do whatever you say,” he said with a smile. “Maybe we should do one for you, one for me.”
But following “The Dreamer,” a lyrically visceral song about DACA youths recorded in 2017 with Los Cenzontles, Browne slid behind a black baby grand piano and the song-title-pelting resumed.
Mercifully, a guy yelled, “Just play whatever you want – it’s all great!”
Mills and Stewart provided sumptuous harmonies on “The Dancer” and Browne and Leisz traded off on electric guitar during “The Long Way Around,” which Browne dedicated to “all the young people working toward common-sense gun legislation.”
While the rudeness of the crowd diminished the otherwise mellow vibe of the night, the benefit of seeing Browne in such stripped form came with not only his clear vocal delivery and unadorned guitar playing, but his storytelling. (The simple stage production consisted of five cones of light and numerous racks of guitars from which Browne and Leisz could select.)
Always a gracious host, Browne turned contemplative about death (“You find that your friends are thinning out,” he said before “The Barricades of Heaven”) and shared that he met Mills and Stewart when they were singing in their high school choir.
The honey-voiced pair handled most of the lead vocals on “Lives in the Balance” – coupled with Brown’s harmonizing - while Leisz coated the rendition with ominous slide guitar.
Following a 20-minute break, Browne quietly returned with Leisz for the title track of his 1973 album, “For Everyman.”
While the second set was dotted with a few more hits – “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” among them - Browne’s focus on this tour is clearly the deeper cuts for the most appreciative fans.
He did pay tribute to the late Gregg Allman with his performance of “These Days” – a song the pair played together at the 2014 Fox Theatre concert in Allman’s honor. “(He’s) my favorite. I’m going to be thinking about Gregg when I sing it,” Browne said.
It was that kind of night. A little bit wistful and a potent reminder of the depth of Browne’s catalog.
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