Live: Jackson Browne Relives His Old New York Days At The Beacon Theatre


Jackson Browne w/ Sara Watkins
Beacon Theatre
Friday, August 3

Better than: Dad rock.

On Friday night, Jackson Browne, still looking youthful under his salt-and-pepper shag, took the stage at the Beacon Theatre for a “solo-acoustic performance” that opened a two-night run at the storied New York venue. Browne has made music for more than 40 years (let’s not forget that this guy helped write and shape a good portion of Nico’s Chelsea Girl); during that time, he’s recorded 13 studio albums, five live records, and way too many singles for me to count. On top of all of that, he’s actively been involved political movements like Occupy and a countless amount of charities, theoretically using his big pile of money for some greater good, beyond just purchasing a giant yacht (even if he does own one). Friday, he was joined by a backing guitarist and percussionist, as well as opener Sara Watkins on the fiddle. Browne and his band blew through a two-hour set full of classics—”Running on Empty,” “These Days,” “Take It Easy.” He opened the night with a new song, “Standing on the Breach.”

Unsurprisingly, the live version of Jackson Browne sounds exactly like the recorded version: clean and precise. Watching him handle a six-string is like watching a skilled doctor perform surgery: His hands float back and forth on the fretboard with ease, carefully and meticulously plucking away at riffs both old and new, and his voice doesn’t sound like it’s aged a bit. Those soaring moments on “Something Fine” or “A Child In These Hills,” both from his self-titled debut, still fly confidently, his vocals just as full and powerful as they were in 1971. Browne’s music is so familiar that, even if you claim to not be interested in what he has to offer, you still might find yourself humming along because the melodies and harmonies have become so familiar and ingrained in American culture.

Browne has been so famous and influential for such a long time that the everyday problems outlined in his lyrics might seem hard to believe. After all, this dude hasn’t been able to walk to the corner cafe and grab a cup of coffee without someone noticing him in about four decades. Then again, he did write “These Days,” a song that focuses on the themes of regret and nostalgia, when he was only 16, so perhaps he’s just gifted with the ability to articulate those feelings that so many people have, but struggle to explain. At times, however, the songwriter’s ego did show its hand. Early on, he spent a good portion of time explaining the advantages of playing solo over those of a full-band set and vice versa, pretty much talking about himself in the third person. Of course, the crowd—full of devotees who spent anywhere from $50-$150 on the show—cheered him on, but I couldn’t help wonder if Browne, sporting skinny jeans and a button-down, could actually take himself seriously.

Ultimately, though, he delivered. Many of his stories focused on the time he spent in New York in his twenties. He spoke of walking down St. Marks. He reminisced about writing songs. It became obvious, really, just how much he loves this city, how thankful he is for his time here and the influence that it had on his career. At the end of the set, he firmly placed himself at the end of the stage with the rest of his band and jumped into a rendition of “Running on Empty.” The crowd had been a little rowdy throughout the night, aggressively shouting out requests between each song, and as soon as the band kickdrummed into that familiar hook, in the words of the guy sitting next to me, “people just lost their shit.” Concertgoers rushed down the aisles to the front, dancing and jumping and hooting. “If it takes all night, that’ll be all right,” he crooned, “if I can get you to smile before I leave.” Looking around at the hollering attendees—some shaking their fists to the beat, others closing their eyes and mellowing—I couldn’t help but listen to the man and smile.

Critical bias: There was a lot of Jackson Browne played in my house growing up. (Hi Mom!)

Overheard: “This is what it’s like to be a baby boomer.”

Random notebook dump: The Beacon Theatre offered the creatively titled cocktail “Running on Empty.” I think it had rum in it.

Set list:
Standing on the Breach
Call It a Loan
The Naked Ride Home
Lawless Avenues
These Days
The Birds of St. Marks
A Child In These Hills
Something Fine
In The Shape of a Heart
Sky Blue and Black
Live Nude Cabaret
The Late Show
I’ll Do Anything
Running on Empty

Take It Easy
Late For The Sky

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