“That’s why you go to live concerts,” said one veteran concertgoer after Jackson Browne wound up his second encore – The Load-Out and Stay – at the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 11, 2015. Every song – both the classics and the new – sounded better – so much better – than they do on disc. The sound was louder, of course, but also more propulsive. The rolling rhythm was as relentless as the nearby ocean, and the two lead guitars took turns adding jaw-dropping pyrotechnics that melded seamlessly with Browne’s familiar melodies. The first moment of transcendence arrived in For Everyman, as the drums built to a climax that spread and covered the Bowl.
I couldn’t have asked for a better set list: For A Dancer, Fountain of Sorrow, Running on Empty, Doctor My Eyes, The Pretender, I’m Alive, Looking East, These Days, Just Say Yeah – heavy on the early hits with a single nod to most of the later albums. Browne mixed in six numbers from his 2014 release, Standing in the Breach, but he personalized each one by telling us when and why it was written. This became a bit political, as the songs, apparently written over a five-year period, each spoke to a cause – the oceans, Haitian schoolchildren, democracy – but since the words were hard to hear we could just enjoy the sound. And speaking of words, while they weren’t as crisp live as they are on record, Browne’s voice was full and didn’t have the nasal tinge it does in the studio.
In all, it was a warm, mellow evening that gave me a new appreciation of some of my oldest, strongest musical memories, much more satisfying than the Radio City Music Hall concert I attended on my 40th birthday. For me in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Jackson Browne and the Eagles were California. Now, here I am.