On Sunday night, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne performed a nice sample of his vast catalog of music at the Riverside Theater.
After opening the show with "Black and White," Browne indicated that this show would be a bit of a free-for-all, meaning that audience members were free to yell out whatever requests they had. This format created an air of unpredictability, since it seemed like Browne was sincerely going along based off of whichever request he heard that he found to be most appropriate.
Since Browne wasn't touring in support of any new release, that meant no unwanted tunes were shoe-horned in, and instead the audience got to hear most of their favorites. Browne would bounce back between the piano and the guitar, consistently backed by a drummer and guitarist, and occasionally accompanied by bass and violin.
Occasionally there would be outliers among the audience requests in between songs. In one case, a fan asked Browne to wish happy birthday to one of the members of their party, which he obliged. At one point he was hit with such a big wave of requests that he remarked, "There's kind of art to calling out for these songs, don't you think?" Not surprisingly, someone thought it was still funny to request "Freebird," but Browne turned the tables by singing the opening lines of the song while playing the piano.
Impressively, the clean-shaven Browne has aged very well, and does not look all that different than he did when he started his solo career about 40 years ago. More importantly, his voice has remained the same. While the request format limited his banter with the audience, he still found moments to pick his spots. Before launching into "Redneck Friend," Browne segued into the tune by declaring, "You got some rednecks in Wisconsin, you know that?"
One of the two band members that played with Browne the entire night was guitarist Val McCallum. About mid-way through Browne's set, McCallum was given center stage and performed the song "Tokyo Girl" from his recent album "At the End of the Day." After explaining the origin of the song, McCallum dryly noted that "the record is available here in the venue." This prompted some ribbing from Browne who said that he should have given such an endorsement instead of McCallum. He teased that McCallum's positioning of the information served as a commercial interruption between the story and the song.
Along with the obvious performance of "Doctor My Eyes," Browne's set included "Looking East," "Your Bright Baby Blues," "These Days," "The Pretender," "The Barricades of Heaven" and "Sky Blue and Black," among others. His final song of his original set was "Running on Empty" and the Riverside Theater quickly rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation. A proud Browne declared, "you're really something else, Milwaukee" before leaving the stage.
He quickly returned for an encore with all of the evening's musicians to play "Take it Easy." After the song was over, everyone except Browne left the stage. As he waved goodbye, the loud cheering and applause won him over and he summoned his bandmates back out for one more song, "Before the Deluge." This time, when Browne and company left the stage, the Riverside Theater continued to provide a huge ovation until the house lights came up signifying that Browne's two-hour show was truly over. He easily could have gone another two hours with the requests that hadn't been fulfilled, but that just speaks to how expansive his discography is.
The opening act for the night was Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins. Early in her set, Watkins did an excellent cover of Davíd Garza's song "Too Much," which also appeared on her 2009 self-titled solo album. Back in May of this year, Watkins released her new album, "Sun Midnight Sun," and most of the songs she performed were from this release. The standout track she played was "When It Pleases You," which she wrote with the prolific singer-songwriter Dan Wilson.
Unconventionally, Watkins was joined for two songs by Jackson Browne, who performed "You & Me" and "Take Up Your Spade" with his opening act. Watkins later returned the favor to Browne by providing her violin and vocals on a number his songs during his set.