By Mike Finkelstein
A quick glance at the billing of David Lindley opening up for Jackson Browne Friday night at the sold out Greek Theater couldn’t help but make fans eagerly anticipate the two sharing the stage at some point. After all, Lindley had been a member of Browne’s band and a key player in the signature sound of Browne’s most iconic songs for most of the ‘70’s. The Greek, major venue that it is, always seems to offer an intimate vibe, and pairing these two engaging and accessible personalities set the table for a very memorable and satisfying show.
One of the most successful singer/songwriters ever, Jackson Browne is a very impressive cat both artistically and now, physically. Time has been good to him. When he walked onstage with his band you had to remind yourself that the man is coming up on 62 years of age, because he has the same gait and physical presence he had perhaps 30 years ago. Clad in various hues of black he and the band wove their way through a set that delivered standards like “Rock Me On The Water,” “Doctor My Eyes,” and “The Pretender” as well as delving below the surface for songs like “Time the Conqueror” and “Shape of a Heart.”
The band was seven pieces large and included Kevin McCormick on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Jeffrey Young on keyboards and backing vocals, Mark Goldenberg on guitar, and the angelic voices of Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills on backing vocals. Browne’s songs are full of dynamic shifts and the band shined as they framed one musical mood after another behind him. Judging from his body language, he clearly relished leading them through the changes. Mills and Stewart also added a remarkably beautiful sense of dimension to the vocal mix under Browne’s voice. Goldenberg, assigned to deliver Lindley’s original lap steel lines on his six string electric, had his work cut out for him. And he did it skillfully, putting his own style into the solos while staying true to the original lines.
Several songs into the show, Lindley walked onstage and sat down on a chair to play some slide. On “Your Bright Baby Blues” he played a mesmerizing solo on a multi-neck lap steel guitar. During musical moments like these you could literally feel the audience members’ spirits rising. Similarly, later in the set the band played and Browne sang a cover of “Mercury Blues,” which was a considerable hit in the early ‘80’s for Lindley and El Rayo X. The song roared on lap steel like the open throttled engine of the ‘49 Mercury it celebrates.
Though Browne’s songs often deal with the stickiest and most complicated dynamics of relationships, finding one’s direction, and political issues, they are beautifully constructed works. His lyrics are layered poetically to go progressively deeper. His musical arrangements feature stylized signature vocals and instrumentation such as Lindley’s lap steel sound. On Friday, Browne’s songs of emotional torment and angst were delivered with a dynamic musical style that was always true to the lyrics, playing up the core emotion of the moment. On “In The Shape Of A Heart” he told us the metaphorical tale of a doomed, heart-shaped ruby of a relationship that he finally dropped away for good into a fist-sized hole in the wall. The poignancy of a song like “Too Many Angels,” which elegantly described a home filled with ornamental angels watching the surrounding dysfunctions, was one of several profound moments of both beauty and melancholy. It was Browne’s poised and warm voice that was so soothingly winsome in conveying the heaviness. Nearly everyone at the Greek seemed to know the words, and had quite likely lived some version of the emotions behind them. Browne sings with grace of the difficult emotions that are so often the raw materials for making great music.
While what is said between songs at a concert is often just filler, Browne’s banter was so engaging, witty and warm that he really did make one forget they were part of a group of thousands. The topics ranged from plastic waste at the bottom of the ocean to lost love letters. At one point on Friday, Browne actually responded to a playful request for “Free Bird” by beginning to sing the first stanza of the Lynrd Skynrd tune over his piano. It sounded nothing like the original and every bit like a new Jackson Browne song. The band appeared ready to run with it and the audience was certainly curious and game, but an enticing tease was all we would hear. Still, his musical delivery is so distinctive that he had us all going.
David Lindley was billed as Friday’s opening act, although he and Browne played both sets together. He is truly one of a kind, performing in some of the loudest, most gaudy polyester togs known to man. With his long gray hair, a pair of very long mutton chop sideburns and wearing spectacles, he sat regally on his chair under a lap steel guitar, looking like a psychedelic version of Ben Franklin. The huge, full sound that he pulls from his many instruments is the bottom foundation of his music. Lindley has a well-deserved reputation for being able to play beautifully bluesy music on any instrument he gets his hands around. For his hour-long set he rotated between acoustic lap steel guitar, bouzouki, and oud. The latter two — Middle Eastern instruments that he simply delights in playing — have attractive and warm middle range timbres that responded beautifully to the hammering and nuanced bends that he used with them.
His set featured songs by Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon and also his own funny tune called “Cat Food Sandwiches,” about dubious backstage cuisine and the beauty of headcheese. Like Browne, Lindley, too was charming and entertaining between songs.
The sun had been barely setting when the show began with Browne and Lindley warming up their open-tuned instruments. Three hours later, with a near-full moon rising, both men were still on stage together, wrapping up a great show.
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