Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013
Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium
Jackson Browne did not write a setlist for his show in San Francisco last night.
Instead, the venerable L.A. singer-songwriter ran the set on a whim -- a whim that seemed as often determined by the crowd's boisterous, between-song shouting as by what the youthful-looking frontman wanted to play.
This may have worked to the crowd's advantage: We got three hours' worth of Mr. Browne and his band, and they were all for the most part excellent.
The only party that suffered may have been Mr. Browne's ego. "There always comes a point in every tour where I sort of snap, and I don't want to do what anybody tells me to do," the affable singer quipped about three-quarters through the show.
Fresh into a West Coast run that's billed as an "acoustic tour" -- but included electric guitars and bass, drums, and electric organ -- Browne seemed content to play as long as he could, and to roll out most of the big hits of his songbook, including "Fountain of Sorrow," "Take It Easy," "Doctor My Eyes," "Running on Empty," and "The Pretender." He performed 24 songs in all, aided by guitarist Val McCallum and Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes, both of whom got a chance to perform a song of their own with Browne on rhythm guitar and backing vocals.
Though he's 64, Browne's gray-flecked cascade of hair and smooth countenance would make most 50-year-olds proud, and his voice sounded just as good as it did on, say, Late For the Sky. Maybe even better: His high notes are just as smooth, but his low range has a hint of sandpaper that imparts a sense of hard-earned wisdom.
He's also pretty funny onstage, engaging in a few lengthy, often self-deprecating monologues over the course of the set. After telling a story about buying a guitar in Tiburon, which detoured into an explanation of the heavy traffic around his home in L.A., Browne stopped himself. "Why am I telling you this?" he said." You guys don't care about L.A."
Of course, the audience applauded loudly -- but Browne continued with his charms. "Every time I land in San Francisco or Oakland, I look at the sky and think, 'Why don't I live here?'" he added. (In the end he said something about how living here would make it less special.)
Surprisingly, given the "acoustic" billing, his somewhat melancholy repertoire, and the limited equipment onstage, Browne and his band managed to rock at a few points -- which got the seated audience out in the aisles and dancing. "Doctor My Eyes" brought people to their feet first, and "The Pretender" and "Take It Easy" were the high-energy highlights of the night.
But the chief attractions of Browne are his voice and of course his songwriting, which often manages to cram absurd amounts of words into songs that don't seem overly wordy at all. His rendering of the particularly lyric-packed tunes, like "Fountain of Sorrow," "Your Bright Baby Blues," or "Before the Deluge" sounded impeccable last night.
Except for one: After playing "Call It a Loan," Browne announced that he'd flubbed one word, accidentally changing "betting" to "hoping." This was too much for the perfectionist to led slide.
"For those of you that knew that I blew that word, I just want you to know that I know I blew it too," he chuckled.
1. Black and White
2. Call It a Loan
3. Giving That Heaven Away
4. Barricades of Heaven
5. Looking into You
6. For Taking the Trouble
7. These Days
8. A Child in These Hills
9. Tokyo Girl (Val McCallum/Jackshit song)
10. Fountain of Sorrow
11. Far From the Arms of Hunger
12. Looking East
13. Lives in the Balance
14. Doctor My Eyes
15. Your Bright Baby Blues
16. Shaky Town
17. Red Neck Friend
18. In the Shape of a Heart
19. Fire Away (Dawes song sung by Taylor Goldsmith)
20. Sky Blue and Black
21. The Pretender
22. Running on Empty
E1. Take It Easy
E2. Before the Deluge