I'm not in the habit of writing concert reviews but I'm compelled to do so for Jackson Browne, currently on the last leg of his West Coast tour. His performance this week at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center was before a crowd of 1,800 but he made it feel like an intimate gathering. Even at 64 years old, Browne retains his boyish charm and personality, along with his youthful mop-top hairstyle. Browne is not a slick entertainer. He's a tender troubadour with a fierce social conscience, whose message speaks loud and clear through his simple and often poignant lyrics. The stories of lost love, melancholy, despair and hope still ring true decades after many of his songs were written.
The audience went from enraptured to unruly with many people yelling out requests. Browne was gracious and generous, thanking everyone for coming and promising to play as many songs as he could. One in particular, called "Shadow Dream" was so obscure, the artist had to pause to remember how to play it. He performed it with style and grace and his band joined in as if they had rehearsed it. The highlight of the three-piece ensemble behind him was the musical pyrotechnics of lead guitarist Val McCallum. Two female backup singers also joined in on many of the songs. At one point, after picking up one of his many acoustic guitars, someone in the audience called out, "Running On Empty." Browne abruptly put down his guitar and sat behind the piano, announcing his one rule, "When someone yells out 'Running On Empty' I have to play it immediately." Fifteen minutes later he revealed that same rule applied to another of his many hits, "Doctor My Eyes."
There was no opening act, but it wasn't needed. Instead, Browne showcased two of his band-mates as soloists, each playing their own music. Browne performed a total of over two and a half hours. He is a rare breed of singer-songwriter-musician, looking as comfortable behind the keyboard as he is holding an acoustic guitar. Browne's style is simple and straightforward, but that's where his elegance lies. His distinctive voice is still sweet, with a hint of raspiness. Despite decades of success, he remains modest and easy-going and still connects with the music and with his audience. The song selection spanned much of Browne's career: from the haunting "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate," to the tender "I Am a Child," to the powerful anthem "I Am a Patriot," and of course, his signature ballad, "The Pretender." The evening felt like a reunion with an old friend. As a fan of Jackson Browne for more than forty years, I guess that's what it was after all.