October 16, 2010. Poughkeepsie, NY. Jackson Browne. My favorite musician, the only one who can take my breath away. Solo and acoustic.
It was only the second time in my life I had felt this way. The first time was at this August 28, 2010 concert in Boston, Massachusetts. Browne’s music and voice, the voice that carries it into my soul, had moved me to the point of not knowing how to describe the emotions I felt. This made me reluctant to even try.
I observed the filled theater seats around me, noting all of the 60-something year old concert goers. The age difference was not relevant. Our love for Browne’s music had brought us all to the same place. It had brought us together. I felt at home with this crowd.
Jackson Browne then walked across the stage and took a seat in a lone chair. Behind the chair were twelve perfectly aligned guitars. Opposite his chair was an electric piano. This cozy set up was tied together with the help of a red patterned rug that lay underneath his essentials.
After picking out the right guitar to start his selections, Browne engaged the audience further.
“I’ve seen this rug before,” he said while tuning his guitar. “This is my acoustic rug.”
The Crowd laughed at his recognition of the rug, and whistles began as he started the first song of the night, “For Everyman.” It was immediately followed by “These Days”, and then a change of guitars, requiring more tuning.
“Someone once asked me,” Browne said, “If I ever get nervous before I perform. And I said, honestly, no.”
The crowd erupted into laughter at Browne’s nonchalant attitude.
“I guess,” he added, “It’s not always a good thing to feel like I’m playing in my living room.” He motioned towards the second guitar in his hands, which he still could not perfectly tune. He then put back the guitar and proceeded to make his way to the piano. This was what I had been waiting for.
Once he was at the piano, the mellow songs began. “Before The Deluge” was first and was quickly followed by “Sky Blue and Black.” As soon as the notes fell from the piano, I knew the next song was “For a Dancer.”
With my elbows on my knees and my hands supporting my chin, I moved to the edge of my seat, captivated. My mouth was slightly open, my entire body still, my eyes focused with awe on Jackson Browne’s tall, thin frame.
Then he began to sing. “…II don’t know what happens when people die / Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try / It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear / That I can’t sing / I can’t help listening / And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ‘round / Crying as they ease you down / ‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing / Dancing our sorrow away.”
Browne was singing with such heartfelt passion, at that moment in the Bardavon Theater, I felt as though I were the sole occupant. I sat enthralled in seat F6 as Jackson Browne sat on the stage, seemingly singing to me, playing his piano for me.
I observed his hands run smoothly along the piano, playing with ease. The way he forced his left shoulder upwards as he hit a difficult note. The way he tapped his left foot between verses, heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe. I mimicked his movements until we were in sync, as he continued to sing.
“…Into a dancer you have grown / From a seed somebody else has thrown / Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own / And somewhere between the time you arrive / And the time you go / May lie a reason you were alive / But you’ll never know.”
The passion in his voice was taking control of my emotions. I barely held myself together as he played “Farther On” and “My Opening Farewell.” In true Browne fashion, he then switched to some upbeat songs. I sang along to “Somebody’s Baby” and “Running on Empty” as I tried to regain my composure. Such honesty in music is rare, and it was hard to overcome my need to cry.
Browne continued to play, and soon after closed the show with one of his more recent songs, “I Am a Patriot.” It was that song that got me thinking about Browne’s passion. He sounded so sincere. Just as he did in his earlier music.
The passion and sincerity evident in his voice made all the difference in believing the music. The voice that I had come to know through my own personal experiences was different from that of Browne’s earlier recordings.
As a young man, his voice sounded sensitive, flowed without effort and had a hint of innocence. What I heard in person was a rough voice that hit notes a little differently, although his sensitivity had not faded. “Late for the Sky” is the perfect example. As a young man singing this song, he did not sing with such sorrow and the music was faster. More recent versions have slowed down, and the pain is evident in Browne’s voice.
If in this world you are let down, turn to Browne. His live music sounded as great as his recorded music. The emotion never failed to come out of his voice. His sincerity never failed to show in his music.
Although slightly changed by the years, Browne’s beautiful voice is still the only one that can affect me greatly. I am truly fortunate to have found his music. The chance to see him in his element had me laughing one minute and feeling like I could cry the next. How many musicians have you seen, especially in concert, that had the power to make your heart skip a beat, then break it in half, and finally pick up the pieces and put them back together?
Photo: Photo courtesy of Jackson Browne’s official facebook page.