Last Night: Jackson Browne at Bayou Music Center
Jackson Browne must find himself in a curious position. At times the requests he got from an otherwise adoring and attentive crowd (minus those people would wouldn't shut up about two rows behind us) Wednesday night resembled the trading floor of a futures market. When artists sometimes complain about fans treating them cattle, this is probably what they mean.
As someone who sees it a fair amout of the time, it's funny to watch, and a little baffling. Fans shout out their requests, and no matter what song it is, applaud enthusiastically when the artist starts the song -- whatever song it is. Sometimes you can here an excited "yes!" under someone's breath nearby. Browne, now 64, was very affable about the whole situation.
Overall, this particular tour -- the essence of "casual" in everything but the skill of the musicianship and the emotions in the lyrics -- seemed to be set up to accommodate the audience's wishes better than most others might be. But whenever the requests really start flying, Browne confessed, "I just don't know where to go... there comes a point in every tour where I just snap... [taking requests] is like cheating, right?"
But Browne is not just some hack doing two sets a night for tips at the Tick Tock Inn. He is one of rock's most gifted songwriters, with the kind of insight and empathy most others of his kind simply do not possess. Within his generation, arguably only Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon have a similar instinct for both craft and poetry. Browne adds a little bit of Tom Petty's roguish charm, perhaps a byproduct of so much L.A. seeping in over the past few decades.
This show was definitely for grownups. Browne does not do frivolity, whether reflecting on things he hasn't done in "These Days" or prophesying doom "Crow on the Cradle." Actually, doom came in the encore, as some ecological catastrophe looms among the Babylonian whirl of "Before the Deluge." His songs are riddled with sleepless nights, highway lust and private insecurities.
His love songs were bruised, usually odes to women long gone. Browne made it sound like they sure were fun while they lasted on "The Naked Ride Home" and "For a Dancer," though. Others ("I'm Alive," "Farther On") projected simple relief at surviving this long, something we can all relate to. But Browne leaves a lot of room for interpretation. "I'll Do Anything" could be a pledge or a plea, "Farther On" an account of quiet faith or simple surrender.