By Bo Emerson, email@example.com
Melissa Ruggieri has the night off, which gave me the chance to see Jackson Browne at Chastain Park.
Or perhaps she took the night off so I'd be the one sitting in the rain. The chance of precipitation was supposed to be 70 percent by 9 p.m. Yes, the downtown streets were slick at quitting time. But we drove into a gorgeous sunset, and arrived in North Atlanta to see one or two stars twinkling through the cloud cover, shining down on the curved stone terraces.
As the lights went down inside the amphitheater, Browne surprised us all and walked out alone on the stage to introduce his opening act, Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell. "Oh, Atlanta!" he cried. "Thank you for bringing the blue sky -- at the last minute."
The skies weren't exactly blue, more like charcoal. But in any given Jackson Browne song even blue skies have a touch of gray.
And though it stayed rain-free, there was plenty of gray in the evening's mood. From Brown's personal songs of love lost, to his political songs of trust betrayed, the tenor of the night was downbeat, down-tempo.
"Straight into the night our hearts were flung
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I'm from"
So goes the Springsteen-like chorus of Browne's opening song, 1996's "The Barricades of Heaven." But Browne aimed it in an anti-Springsteen direction, restraining the out-choruses in a steady diminuendo, until even the chatter in Chastain's wineglass-clinking audience was quieted.
Other quiet moments were similarly affecting. The long intro to "For a Dancer," which had Browne starting out on solo piano, joined by Campbell on violin, gave way to the full sound of "Fountain of Sorrow," in which keyboard player and backup vocalist Jeff Young and harmony vocalist Alethea Mills were joined by Campbell and a reappearing Teresa Williams, to make a mighty chorale.
Was the quiet a bit too quiet? Browne saved "Doctor My Eyes," "Runnin on Empty" and "Take it Easy," his three best-known rave-ups, for the last three numbers of the night. They raised heart rates and actually got the audience on its feet. But some of us would have liked a little more foot-stomping earlier in the show.
Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell played an impeccable first set. Browne met the duo while playing with the late Levon Helm, during Helm's legendary "Rambles" at his farm in Woodstock, N.Y.
Williams and Campbell were backed by Browne's polished rhythm section (which also included Bob Glaub on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums and Greg Leisz on guitar, lap steel and pedal steel). For "Samson and Delilah," however, Williams sang accompanied only by Campbell's machine-gun, finger-style acoustic guitar. It was an effective pairing.
Jackson Browne celebrated his 67th birthday Friday, and Saturday's audience sang a shaky version of "Happy Birthday." Aside from a few wrinkles, the birthday boy seems slightly outside the force of time. He still has the same Prince Valiant hair and his voice is as clear as ever.
Most importantly he hasn't stopped writing affecting songs, nor is he shy about attacking (with his distinctive lyrical skill) the social ills that plague humans, from gun violence in "The Long Way Arround" to the catastrophe in Haiti, described in "Standing in the Breach." Both of those songs were released last year.
Here's Jackson Browne's set list from the evening (let me know if I missed one):
"The Barricades of Heaven"
"Just Say Yeah"
"The Long Way Around"
"My Opening Farewell"
"Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" (by Warren Zevon)
"For A Dancer"
"Fountain of Sorrow"
"Which Side are You On"
"If I Could Be Anywhere"
"Standing in the Breach"
"In the Shape of A Heart"
"Doctor My Eyes"
"Runnin on Empty"
"Take It Easy"