Imagine Jackson Browne playing in a living room for just you and your friends.
Despite a crowd of more than 2,000, Browne’s performance Sunday night at Benaroya Hall was like a house concert — an intimate, informal evening of songs chosen on the fly, with several guest musicians and plenty of stories and anecdotes connecting the dots of a remarkable 47-year career as a singer-songwriter with a penchant for soul-searching lyrics.
Browne received a standing ovation as he strolled on stage for a playful, three-hour concert with band members Val McCallum (guitar and harmonica) and Fritz Lewak (drums), as well as guest musicians Taylor Goldsmith (keyboards) and Jonathan Wilson (vocals and guitar). Browne alternated among acoustic guitars, electric bass and piano, but experienced some stubborn tuning problems with the guitars.
The 64-year-old musician is known, of course, for such popular songs as “The Pretender,” “Doctor My Eyes,” “Running on Empty” and “Rock Me on the Water.” But this wasn’t a greatest-hits show. Browne played many of his lesser-known songs, reaching back to his 1972 debut album, for example, to sing “A Child in These Hills.”
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“This is going to be a great night,” Browne promised, before introducing Goldsmith and Wilson and recalling his legendary jams at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, a Santa Monica, Calif., venue known for its musical collaborations. But there were enough flubs and miscues in the show to keep everyone, including Browne, chuckling.
Browne, whose voice was usually clear and commanding (despite a sound mix that favored the drums), occasionally surrendered the microphone to his guests. McCallum sang “Tokyo Girl,” an uninspiring tune about meeting his wife 22 years ago in Japan; he was much more impressive on guitar and harmonica. Equally talented, Wilson sang lead vocals on two country-tinged songs — “Gentle Spirit” and “Moses Pain.”
The latter part of the concert featured an especially strong selection of songs — “Shakey Town,” “Rosie,” “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty.”
Browne closed with “For a Dancer,” his inspirational song of sorrow and mourning. “I don’t know what happens when people die,” he sang. “Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try.”
Gene Stout: email@example.com