Early on during the incredible Friday night show at the Christchurch Town Hall Jackson Browne informs the audience "it's the first time I have ever been to Christchurch". It made you think that , due to the personal nature of much of his catalogue over the years that you know someone like Jackson as an old acquaintance and has communicated with you enough that you feel you have seen him around anyway. An American seated next to me (about my age) said "don't you feel you have grown up with this guy?". That is what a great songwriter can do , and few can write more personally than Jackson Browne the ultimate "For Everyman".
Of course he wasn't the first to write this way and he arrived at a time in the early 70's when the West Coast introspective singer songwriter was the "go to" for many record companies but few have remained as consistent with their output over 50 years . It is easy to forget his influence on the likes of the great Warren Zevon (co produced the massive Excitable Boy album including "Werewolves of London" ) or as he casually mentioned during the show associating with Glenn Frey and Lowell George as co-writers. He truly is one of the last of this generation of musicians (noting all of those just mentioned have passed away) and as Marc Maron notes in the podcast interview from a couple of years back "that guy knows everyone". This despite Browne seemingly not interested in any rock star persona. During the concert the closest rock god move we got was a slight kicking gesture to match the drum fill during the iconic "Running on Empty".
It is testament to his vast catalogue that , as when last seen 2016 he ignored all of his 1980's output , this time except for one track acting as tribute to the late great David Lindley "Call it a Loan" .So we didn't get to hear anything from Lawyers in Love, Lives in the Balance or World in Motion . The 80's coincided with a move away from an introspective style of writing to concentrate more on Political concerns , there was the tail of No Nukes in the US , a visit to NZ for the Rainbow Warrior benefit in the mid 80's and trips to central America highlighting the plight of various nations where the US was backing questionable regimes . Songs such as "Lives in the Balance" and "Say it isn't True" are as relevant today as they ever were. Not forgetting one of the greatest ballads he has ever written "Shape of a Heart" and one of his biggest commercial successes "Somebody's Baby" (was hoping someone might yell this out as it is a truly great pop song despite JB absolutely hating it ( he sums it up well during this podcast interview here and is well worth a listen))
Still it leaves the impression that Browne has an extraordinary catalogue of music to choose from and, as always , an outstanding band of musicians to assist with delivering it. There may not be Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar or David Lindley as he had at his disposal in his 70's limelight years but bassist Bob Gluab was present way back in 1983 for Lawyers in Love while Greg Leisz proved to be the early MVP of the night effortlessly shifting between lap and pedal steel, electric and acoustics guitars. Not forgetting his unbelievable Spanish guitar touches to the seminal "Linda Paloma" and the more recent "The Dreamer". The main electric guitar this time was not Shane Fontayne (ex Springsteen and Lone Justice who was in the previous NZ show in 2016) but someone named Mason Stoops who looked straight out a US jazz school but could guitar shred with Leisz and landed an incredible solo to conclude "Doctor My Eyes". Someone sitting next to me with binoculars counted 20 different guitars on the side of the stage where Leisz and Stoops were and it was that kind of night, guitar playing at a standard rarely seen.
Speaking of guitars JB seemed to change his every couple of songs in between darting to the piano. There was a hilarious spinal tap moment straight out of the gate when JB began the night with "Before the Deluge" . With his acoustic driving the song the rest of the band appeared tentative to the point that JB realised something was amiss after the first verse ( and if you listened closely you heard the odd discordant stab as the band were trying to figure it out) . The culprit was the guitar tech who had handed JB the wrong guitar to kick off the night (!) (tuned down or up from standard pitch). Such are moments mere mortals without guitar techs can only dream about however who hasn't cranked up a song in the wrong key before ( apart from mentioning this previously with Blair senior I recall not taking a capo off once for a version of "I Walk the Line" complete with a Horn section rendering them useless for the duration of the song - if looks could kill) But JB as the "For Everyman" merely shrugged this off in a light hearted way and was able to restart proceedings.
We are treated to outstanding versions of older cuts "Fountain of Sorrow," "Rock Me on the Water" & "For Everyman" and this was just the first half . In another selfless gesture Browne shared the front of the stage with his backing singers at the start of the second half and gave both a chance to shine over newer songs "Until Justice is Real and "The Dreamer"
He clearly has affinity for the 1993 album "I'm Alive" as "Sky Blue and Black" joined the title cut mid way through. Not even what seemed a spontaneous decision (but likely with one eye on the clock) to omit the classic "The Pretender" could detract from the quality of what was seen and heard. And in a nod to the 70's peak with Running on Empty we were treated to the 1-2 punch of "The Load Out" (where Split Enz were name checked (!)) and "Stay" with "Take it Easy" paired with "Our Lady of the Well" ending the night as it did in 2016 (per the pairing on the debut album)
It was indeed a memorable , poignant night of music and it seemed that JB was touched by the audience reaction for this last show of the tour , clearly happy to be back after having to cancel a couple of shows in Australia due to illness. As he remembered David Lindley and ex collaborator/band member Jeff Young as well as Glen Frey and Lowell George those in the audience could reflect on others nearer who have gone and shake their heads at what had just happened over the previous two and a half hours. It is hard to think of a finer concert experience. Go well Jackson Browne!
"Let the Music Keep our Spirits High" - Before the Deluge, Jackson Browne
Thanks Dave Mitchell for the pics