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Concert Reviews:
Jackson Browne delivers a holiday weekend delight at Meadow Brook

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, September 6, 2015

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- Some consider Labor Day weekend a last gasp of summer, a chance for fun and frivolity, cookouts and festivals and getting that last dip in at the swim club before the season ends.

But Jackson Browne wasn't exactly manning the grill on Sunday, Sept. 6.

Instead the veteran California singer-songwriter injected the holiday with some provocative socio-political thought and earnest, confessional self-analysis. And rest assured the two-plus-hour, 19-song show was as enjoyable as any backyard barbecue.

Browne had a lot on his mind Sunday -- especially during the of politically-minded and environmentally conscious triplet of "Which Side?" "If I Could Be Anywhere" and "Standing in the Breach" -- and brought a lot of musical firepower to deliver it. His six-piece band was bolstered by first-call multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz playing a variety of pedal and standard guitars and Larry Campbell, an alumnus of the late Levon Helm's band, on lead guitar and fiddle. Campbell and hiss wife, Teresa Williams, also opened the night with their own 40-minute set, and Williams was a guest vocalist on five songs during Browne's show.

That made for an adventurous and richly crafted concert highlighted by sumptuous (there's no other word) arrangements driven by mood, feel and melody, with plenty of room for the soloists to -- tastefully -- strut their stuff. Campbell and Leisz got the lion's share of the spotlight -- their trade-off at the end of "Looking East" were worth the price of admission alone -- but keyboardist Jeffrey Young made the most of his opportunities as well as providing harmony vocals throughout the set.

Browne, meanwhile, was in good voice -- though he forgot a few lyrics during "These Days" and "Fountain of Sorry" and played gracious host, thanking the Meadow Brook crowd for listening to his songs, offering insightful stories about most of the songs and, on the topical tip, making a strong and well-reasoned case that "this is a pivot point in the course of our human time here on Earth. He stayed away from U.S. presidential politics, but he did address climate change as well as the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe.

There were plenty of proven favorites during the show, which was backloaded with hits such as "The Pretender," "Running On Empty" and an encore of the Eagles' "Take It Easy" (which Browne co-wrote with Royal Oak native Glenn Frey, who he dedicated the song to on Sunday) that led into "Our Lady of the Well." But some of the night's best moments were lesser-known material like the rootsy "The Long Way Around," a countrified cover of the late Warren Zevon's "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" and the expansive outro sections on "If I Could Be Anywhere" and "Looking East."

All told, it was a seasoned performer and potent songwriter simply doing what he does best. It might not have been a party, but it certainly was a celebration of enduring musical excellence. At one point Browne spoke of his history playing Detroit and of "an amazing number of years of fantastic happenings." And he can certainly count Sunday's show among them.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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