Review: Jackson Browne at the Civic

By Peter Calder

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Jackson Browne.
Jackson Browne.

The long queue for the men's dunnies at intermission may have said something about the ageing plumbing of the average punter. But the oldies didn't have everything their own way.

"Jackson, it's my birthday!" Meg in Row M called in a moment of silence. "I'm 21."

The 67-year-old prince of singer-songwriters suggested she was going to have a good year, and started it off with an on-stage selfie. She asked to pick the next song, too. It's not everyone who gets a 21st present of JB singing For a Dancer, just for them.

The exchange was perfectly in tune with the tone of a warmly received 2½-hour set of 20 songs in which the touring veteran was a man sufficiently at ease to embark on several attempts to film us all singing Happy Birthday to longtime collaborator Danny Kortchmar, who turns 70 this week.

His regular band of Mauricio Lewak (drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (vocals) and the extraordinarily versatile Greg Leisz (everything else with six or 12 strings) was joined by guitarist Shane Fontayne, on secondment from his duo work with Graham Nash.

It was a tight and polished ensemble - special shout-out to Young's and Mills' backing vocals, so different in style, so perfectly married.

The set ranged across Browne's entire career from These Days written when he was 16 to six cuts from 2014's Standing in the Breach. If the more grizzled fans were disappointed that only eight came from his golden era, they didn't show it.

Browne's admirable activism doesn't always translate to great lyrics - "American exceptionalism - so out of touch" doesn't have the ring of "How do we sleep while our beds are burning?" - and a lot of the music recycles old ideas (Just Say Yeah is Ready or Not redux and all the pedal effects on The Long Way Around can't hide the fact that it's the first line of These Days on endless repeat).

But that winningly plangent voice is undimmed and anyway, for many who came, the evening seemed like an act of homage. Maybe you won't be back again, JB, but thanks for everything. It's been a great 40 years.

Setlist
1. The Barricades of Heaven
2. Just Say Yeah
3. The Long Way Around
4. Leaving Winslow
5. These Days
6. For Everyman
7. I'm Alive
8. For a Dancer
9. Fountain of Sorrow
Intermission
10. Your Bright Baby Blues
11. Which Side?
12. If I Could Be Anywhere
13. Standing in the Breach
14 Looking East
15 The Birds of St Marks
16 Sky Blue and Black
17 The Pretender
18 Doctor My Eyes
19. Running on Empty

Encore
Take It Easy/Lady of the Well

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