Like much of his audience these days, Jackson Browne seems to have embraced age and maturity only reluctantly. That's the inevitable result, perhaps, of growing up in the untamed times that were the '60s and '70s. That's evident, of course, in his heart-stung tales of wasted relationships. It's in his laborious laments about the seamy, dispirited consequence of political spoilers. And it's in his seemingly unerring ability to reconcile the freedom of the open road and the stability of finding a habitat - both physical and spiritual - that he can call home. That irrevocable wanderlust appears to trail him even now, despite the fact that at age 61, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is clearly part of rock's elder vanguard.
Fortunately, none of that weariness was on display at Saturday night's packed showcase at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The evening found Browne musing over the origins of his material and offering personal memories of Miami. He entertained oftentimes unruly requests, scampered amid a set-up of a dozen guitars (the majority of which he ultimately ignored), and then gave much of his attention to an electric piano as instrument of choice.
As a singer/songwriter whose songs have been at least as notable in settings recast by others ("Take it Easy" by the Eagles, "These Days" by nearly everyone else) Browne now turns his solo unplugged performances into a format akin to VH1's Storyteller sessions. He intersperses the songs with the anecdotes and observations that populated his recent pair of Solo Acoustic album sessions. However, Browne's discourses tend to be more self-effacing than those of his like-minded troubadours.
The format did encourage the crowd to randomly shout requests at each and every juncture - including one smartass' call for "Free Bird" (which brought a chuckle from Browne but no attempt) and "God Only Knows" (which he begrudgingly initiated while being aided and abetted by the audience). Browne amiably conceded, though, that he had brought the chaos upon himself. "I make note of three requests at a time," Browne explained agreeably. "But by the time I've done the first one, I usually forget the other two."
Naturally, the audience - which was made up equally of those his age and those not even born at the release of his classic albums -- did its best to ensure that Browne wouldn't overlook their favorites. Whether by chance or by design, the performance served as a perfect primer on his material. The show weighed heavily on old favorites -- "These Days," "Rock Me on the Water," "Jamaica Say You Will," "The Pretender," "For Everyman," "For a Dancer," and so on -- while touching only occasionally on more recent fare.
That seemed appropriate. Browne's ill-considered facial hair is now shorn, and he still resembles the quiet, sex-god troubadour of nearly four decades past. Indeed little seems to have changed since his early days as an itinerant songwriter given to melancholy melodies and confessional outpourings of disappointment and self-doubt. "Do you want to hear a lively uptempo song on guitar or something despondent on piano?" Browne asked his audience as the requests wound down. Not surprisingly, the latter option won out.
That said, there were a few chipper choices in the nearly three-hour performance, although admittedly, hearing "Take It Easy" and "Running On Empty" augmented by a full band would have upped the energy and intensity level considerably. I would have preferred, perhaps, a show with a full backing band, but there was still much to be said for the intimacy embraced in this stripped-down setting.
Notably, Browne did perform one offering from his latest studio album, Time The Conqueror, which had special resonance for this South Florida crowd. "Going Down To Cuba," which lyrically balks at the embargo, was initially greeted with nervous silence. However the audience seemed to embrace the song by its end. There's little doubt that if there was in fact a set list that might have revealed that song in advance, protestors and picketers would have appeared. As it was, there didn't seem to be a disappointed soul in sight.
Personal Bias: There's much to be said for the revealing nature of a solo acoustic show, particularly with an artist like Jackson Browne. But damn, if only for the wail of freewheeling guitars in "Take It Easy...."
Random Detail: After listening to a bootleg of a Browne performance from the early '70s on the way to and from the concert, it seems the Browne of old and the Browne of today are pretty much indistinguishable.
By the Way: Damn, the guy looks amazing for 61. If only we could all age as gracefully.