Jackson Browne made me just as happy last night as he did four years ago when he sang at the Bowl. More than half his set list was different, which speaks to the size and quality of his repertoire. I started thinking that he must be the best songwriter of our generation, after Dylan and Springsteen; but his songs are so much more relatable. The early ones are about love and longing, the more recent tend toward political issues; but the words are always clear and thoughtful. Then there is the sound. His songs have a rolling rhythm that is infectious, and amplified by the Bowl’s sound system, they filled the air around me. As familiar as were most of the songs, they sounded so much better in person.
He treats the Bowl as his home court, which makes the evening extra special. “I played all these great places on this tour…but they weren’t Santa Barbara.” The crowd–not a young person in the bunch–loved him back, creating a sense of community. This was real Santa Barbara: no one was dressed up, everyone was comfortable, we all sang along. He opened loud and proud with “Somebody’s Baby,” right at 7; played till 8:15; took a 15-minute break, as promised; then played to 9:55, including two encores, ending, as before (maybe always?) with “The Load-Out” and “Stay.” In between he plucked numbers from ten different albums. His first was released a half-century ago, but the songs have held up: “Rock Me On the Water,” “Jamaica Say You Will,” and “Doctor My Eyes,” perhaps the biggest crowd-pleaser. My favorite album is Late for the Sky. I’ve written before about “For A Dancer.” “Fountain of Sorrows” melted me totally.
He chatted casually between numbers, offering explanations only for the four songs from his 2021 album, Downhill from Everywhere, the title song of which refers to the huge mass of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although they were less familiar, these songs fit the groove, from the politically insistent “The Dreamer” to the soulful “A Little Soon to Tell.” He apparently altered his program in response to a fan’s shouted request for “The Shape Of A Heart,” further cementing his connection with the audience. Finally, it was nice to see an age-appropriate band backing Jackson. The lead guitarist was on the young side, but the slide guitar, drummer, keyboard and bass player looked like veterans of Browne’s career, maybe not David Lindley but the next best thing. And the two Black female backup singers have been with Browne for twenty years, he said, after he picked them out of a high school gospel chorus. There was nothing showy, a la Rod Stewart. This was laid-back Southern California at its best.