At Tanglewood: Jackson Browne in form

Saturday July 6, 2013

LENOX -- Jackson Browne was feeling pretty good on Thursday night.

Maybe it was the weather. Maybe he was glad to be near the end of his tour (only two more dates to go). Maybe he was excited about his return to Tanglewood after 15 years.

For whatever reason, Browne and his band delivered a longer-than-usual, 20-song set, peppered with hits and rarities alike in a meaty review of his 40-plus year career.

It wasn't just the choice of songs. Browne was a little more chatty than usual, and his wry observations inevitable drew a laugh.

At one point, for example, he noted that his first Tanglewood gig was 1972, opening for the band America. " ‘Sister Golden Hair,' " called out a fan near the front of the stage, naming a popular hit by that group.

Browne chuckled.

" ‘Sister Golden Hair?' " he said. "I don't think so."

A complaint in earlier shows on this tour has been that Browne eschews some of his hits for more obscure tunes. Yes, we got "Call It A Loan" from 1980's "Hold Out." Yes, we got "Live Nude Cabaret" from 2008's "Time the Conqueror." Both were fine, and Browne admitted on stage that he doesn't really use setlists anymore, and plays songs he wants to play. No problem there.

But we also got a beautiful version of "The Pretender," with sideman Val McCallum shining on the slide guitar, as well as a sweet "Late for the Sky," with violinist Sara Watkins taking a nice solo turn.

Watkins and her band opened for Browne on Thursday. They were fine, but to be honest, she does better as part of an ensemble like Browne's band. Her best work was with the main act.

Highlights on Thursday included an homage to Tanglewood's usual Fourth of July performer, James Taylor, with Browne and the band playing an exquisite version of "Sweet Baby James." Watkins, in fact, presented a stellar violin solo.

And it would be hard to argue with Browne's Big Finish: A cover of Miami Steve Van Zandt's "I Am A Patriot," "Doctor My Eyes" and "Running on Empty" with McCallum just killing on slide guitar.

The encore has usually just been one tune, albeit a good one: A cover of The Eagles' "Take It Easy." But Browne and the band stayed onstage after that one, and played a soulful, haunting, "After the Deluge."

The traditional Tanglewood holiday fireworks were kind of an anticlimax.


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