Jackson Browne must have a secret, and I wanna know what it is. While the man supposedly has been running on empty for the past 40 years, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After I had heard the song for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late ’70s, Browne quickly became one of my favorite artists. Not surprisingly, I was really psyched when I finally saw him for the first time Sunday night at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pa.
After a 45-year-plus recording career, Browne’s voice still sounded just as great as it did back in the days of Running On Empty. Heck, he even largely looked the same with the same hairstyle – okay, now with grey hair and glasses, but overall, time has been relatively kind to Browne. And what an ace backing band! But let’s start from the beginning.
Have you ever been to a rock & roll show that started on time? I don’t recall any, but this one actually did! At 7:30 PM on the dot, Browne walked out on stage to personally introduce his opening act: American singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Frankly, I had never heard of her before. Browne called her a great songwriter who for sometime had been part of his band. Oh, and he also allowed her to use his current backing band – what a class act!
I have to say I was impressed with Shepard, who reminded a bit of Sheryl Crow. Her voice has a nice soulful vibe. She also is a musician, playing the piano, bass and guitar. Shepard started out as a backing singer, eventually got a record contract, and released her eponymous debut album in 1989. After her third record had appeared in 1996, she was hired for the TV sitcom Ally McBeal, for which she recorded two companion soundtrack albums. She scored a hit with Searchin’ My Soul, a catchy pop rock tune she co-wrote with Paul Howard Gordon. To date Shepard has released 14 albums. Here is a clip of Searchin’ My Soul, which was the closer of her 25-minute set.
Then the time had finally come for Jackson Browne. From the opening bars of Before The Deluge to the final notes of the encore, I was amazed by Browne’s voice and his musicianship. With a 45-year-plus recording career, he certainly had an enormous catalog he could pull from and he did. I wasn’t familiar with all of the tunes he performed, but with the help of Setlist.fm, I figured out the entire set except for one song.
The first tune I’d like to call out is The Long Way Around, a track from Browne’s last studio album Standing In The Breach, which appeared in October 2014. One thing I liked about the song was the great solo by Browne’s lead guitarist Val McCallum, whose guitar work shined throughout the evening. I just dig the clear and transparent sound he got out of his Fender Telecaster. Here’s a nice clip.
Another highlight was Lives In The Balance, the title song from Browne’s eighth studio album released in February 1986. The stripped back version prominently featured his terrific backing vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, who added a dose of gospel and soul. Check it out.
Amid all his songs, Browne also threw in a cover of I’m A Patriot, a tune written by Little Steven for his second solo album Voice Of America from May 1984. Again, backing singers Mills and Stewart featured prominently in the laid back tune and did a beautiful job.
In addition to being a great songwriter and vocalist, Browne is a pretty decent guitarist. One standout in this context was Your Bright Baby Blues from his fourth studio album The Pretender released in November 1976. It featured some nice slide guitar work by Browne. You can watch it here.
Speaking of The Pretender, here is the great title track of the album. It was one of the tunes Browne played on the piano.
Running On Empty was the last track of the regular set. I still love this song after all these years. Greg Leisz did a beautiful job on pedal steel guitar. Like the amazing David Lindley, this guy is an impressive multi-instrumentalist.
Browne waited to the encore to play one of his other major hits: Take It Easy, which he co-wrote with Glenn Frey. It became the first single for the Eagles in May 1972. Browne included the tune on his sophomore album For Everyman, which came out in October 1973. On Sunday night, he blended it into Our Lady Of The Well, the second tune on that record. Leisz provided more beautiful pedal steel guitar. It’s all nicely captured in the following clip.
In addition to McCallum, Leisz, Mills and Stewart, Browne’s excellent backing band included Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums) and Jeff Young (keyboards). Here is the entire set list.
- Before The Deluge
- Some Bridges
- You Love the Thunder
- The Long Way Around
- The Dreamer
- Lives In The Balance
- Doctor My Eyes
- These Days
- Shaky Town
- Never Stop
- I’m A Patriot
- Somebody’s Baby
- Looking East
- Your Bright Baby Blues
- World in Motion (together with Vonda Shepard)
- Unknown song
- I’m Alive
- Sky Blue and Black
- Shape of the Heart
- The Pretender
- Running on Empty
- Take It Easy
- Our Lady Of The Well
Source: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube