Jackson Browne, with David Lindley. At the Lobero Theatre, Monday, December 4.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Those who guessed that this might be the musical equivalent of a proverbial That ’70s Show had no idea how oddly right they would be. Of course illustrious headliner and homeboy Jackson Browne was the obvious part, as his many didactic anthems — “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty,” and “Take It Easy,” to name a few — are the apotheosis of detachment as virtue. They warn us to check our emotions, get a clear head, and be mellow. And mellow was the watchword of this show and those wide-lapelled years, too.
But even the opening act was a little reminiscent of shag rugs and mood rings, though it seemed more a warm wave toward the 1990s-brand multiculturalism known as World Music. Kiko Veneno, Browne’s friend from Seville, played a personal mixture of flamenco, propulsive pop, and dance music with all the dexterity and tireless self-indulgence of fusion jazz figures from the 1970s like Al Dimeola. Here were sweet effervescent sounds that lasted long enough to showcase everybody’s virtuosity. The performance was clearly beautiful but a little sleep-inducing for we who don’t rumba so long.
But then something totally surreal happened — so 1970s! — which generously underlined the era theme. Between songs Veneno invited what sounded like “Jonathan Richman” onstage. And suddenly there, in a paisley shirt, was the man whose roadrunners and toy dinosaurs inadvertently invented punk rock. Richman humbly rumbaed, singing nervous backup. Sadly, he never came back to praise the moonlight or the modern world. The arch-minimalist of rock marginalized again.
Browne himself offered revelations playing with David Lindley (who had a bad cold). “Crow on the Cradle” mixed folk idioms freely and with an almost morbid poignancy. “Late for the Skies,” “Too Many Angels,” and “My Beautiful Plan” stood out in the dozen-song set and prepared the crowd for the finale, in which everybody — except Richman — sang Leonard Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep” before Jackson wallowed off into his own uber-’70s anthem, “The Next Voice You Hear Will Be Your Own.”
What’s great about Leonard Cohen is that he doesn’t flinch, he’s beautiful and severe. Alternately, Browne’s approach to folky poetry is easy strumming past empty and pleasing the crowd, which he did. Just getting Lindley and Browne to do their lavish thing would have sufficed, though at times I wished they’d remembered that old adage “less is more.” All in all it was a star-studded triumph for Sings Like Hell.