Concert review by Michael Berman
Jackson Browne with Chavonne Stewart, Alethea Mills, and Greg Leisz, with Mai Leisz
All Saints Church, Pasadena, California
November 16, 2018
Of all the boomer-era Los Angeles musicians, Jackson Browne has always been special to me. Most of the musicians in the Los Angeles scene came from other places - Roger McGuinn from Chicago, Gram Parsons and Tom Petty from Florida, Mama Cass from Baltimore, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell from Canada, Linda Ronstadt from Arizona.
But Jackson was an L.A. boy, had been the places that I'd been, driven the same freeways. His picture was always on the wall at McCabes guitars, and I could always imagine he'd just left a little while before I walked in, which was entirely possible. And he sang of Silver Lake, and a house by the freeway, and the lights on the hills. He made me imagine that if I tried hard perhaps I could do what he did, make music like that.
And Jackson Browne has always been one of the most personal and confessional of songwriters and performers. True or not, it seems like it's all about him, he puts his life and his insecurities out there for you to see. In concert he's a wonderful storyteller and a master at connecting with the audience, even in the stadiums he used to play and in the midsize venues he mostly frequents now. But to see him with a few hundred people in a church in Pasadena, just a few miles from his boyhood - and early adult - home in Highland Park, was something really special.
Highland Park is about five miles from Pasadena, a neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles with tightly packed bungalows, bodegas, narrow streets, and old palm trees. When Jackson was growing up in the late 1950's, it was also a neighborhood becoming progressively more dangerous as demographic changes fed gang rivalries and the drug trade. Today, it's largely gentrified and a popular place for young families to move, but it was the old Highland Park that drove his family out of LA and into Orange County.
Jackson told us these stories, and we also heard from Chavonne Stewart, a superb singer who has accompanied Jackson on albums and in concerts. Chavonne told her story of growing up in deep poverty and cultural isolation in South Central LA, not knowing that another world existed until joining Jackson's band took her around the world and showed her what she might become. And now she has established a charity to mentor inner-city girls, Exposher, which benefited from the ticket sales.
We also heard asides about Jackson shooting bows and arrows at the Arroyo Seco range, and being guided to tell truth from fiction about the story of the American Indian - readings that permanently shaped his attitude and that he describes as the roots of his political awakening. We also learned that the line from The Pretender - "Where the veterans dream of the fight/fast asleep at the traffic light..." - came to him after he saw a man sleeping in front of the Senior Center at York & Figueroa.
But lest you think the evening was a monolog, Jackson Browne performed a total of 15 songs in 90 minutes. The arrangements, with Chavonne Stewart and Althea Mills vocals and the extremely talented guitar work from Greg Leisz were excellent, often shining beyond his original records, many of which in retrospect seem overproduced and outdated. Jackson's voice, always a bit on the nasal side, has gotten a little lower and darker but is still solid and effective. Even when it wavers a bit it adds attractive color to his delivery.
And the songs! Take a look at the list below - songs from every decade of his nearly 50 years of recordings. How many artists could put together an entertaining set that spans a timeframe like that? Richard Thompson and Neil Young are the only ones that come to mind for me. Yes, he included several of his best known songs from the 1970's, but for me highlights included Far From the Arms of Hunger from the somewhat overlooked Time the Conqueror album; The Long Way Around from his recent Standing in the Breach; and his timely and appealing "The Dreamer" from last year.
And he's such a pro as a performer - the pacing, the sound, the arrangements were all very effective. I guess it's no surprise after all the dates he's performed, but it's still impressive. And Greg Leisz is a perfect foil, having much of the versatility and style of Jackson's long-time partner David Lindley but with enough of his own panache to stand as a worthy successor.
Sometimes you get to see a concert at a time and a place that you know will never be reproduced. That was Jackson Browne at All Saints Church last night, and I'm very fortunate to have been there.
Full Set List (album & date in parentheses) Rock Me On The Water (Jackson Browne, 1972)
Some Bridges (Looking East, 1996)
The Dreamer (single, 2017)
Lawless Avenues (Lives in the Balance, 1986)
Off of Wonderland (Time the Conqueror, 2008)
Lives in the Balance (Lives in the Balance, 1986)
The Long Way Around (Standing in the Breach, 2014)
Barricades of Heaven (Looking East, 1996)
Something Fine (Jackson Browne, 1972)
For Everyman (For Everyman, 1973)
Doctor My Eyes (Jackson Browne, 1972)
Far From the Arms of Hunger (Time the Conqueror, 2008)
The Pretender (The Pretender, 1977)
Running on Empty (Running on Empty, 1977)
I Am a Patriot (World in Motion, 1989
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