Jackson BrowneFox Tucson Theatre, Sunday, April 13
While Jackson Browne didn't invent the singer/songwriter thing, his first three albums--Saturate Before Using, For Everyman and Late for the Sky--raised the bar considerably in terms of song composition and stylistic presentation.
Browne's current tour--not unlike his relatively recent twin releases, Solo Acoustic, Volumes I and II--harkens back to those days if not exactly those times. Take away the big touring band, and what you're essentially left with is the voice, the songs and the vibe, all of which were out in full force on a balmy Sunday night.
Some singer/songwriters are infinitely more interesting with backup than they are solo. Browne, however, shines solo. Through 24 tunes and almost 2 1/2 hours, he touched on virtually every part of his storied career at the acoustically rich Fox. In fact, some of his most affecting presentations were songs significantly stripped down from their original arrangements. "The Barricades of Heaven" and "Looking East" were two such examples. And while Browne makes a habit of surrounding himself with A-list studio musicians, his solo guitar work was eye-opening in terms of how accomplished he is as a finger-pick player and how well his playing (on piano as well) was able to support these songs on its own. Ironically, big rave-ups like "Runnin' on Empty" and "Doctor My Eyes" might have fared better here with the more soulful approach that worked so well for almost everything else.
Sporting a well-trimmed, graying beard, Browne gave equal time to the piano and any number of the 14 guitars lined up on stage. Working without a set list and taking requests from an audience that was overenthusiastic at best (obnoxious at worst), Browne also allowed himself to explore a more expansive musical agenda. "Lives in the Balance" and "(Roll Out) The Drums of War" were powerful reminders that he remains one of the more articulate political voices in pop music. He also made room for a couple of catchy and clever unnamed new tunes while giving powerful readings of "For a Dancer," "The Pretender" and "Late for the Sky."
Browne will turn 60 this fall, but as a boomer icon, he is still relevant, passionate and evolving. And while there were a couple of high notes he would probably like to have back, we should all age as well as his still-potent voice.