“I can honestly say that these shows where I’m up here without a setlist are my favorite,” Jackson Browne explained as he listened to requests from the crowd and meandered in the space between his keyboard and his 17 acoustic guitars, which sat perfectly organized in a line behind him. “The thing is, I don’t always like to do what people say,” he joked, as screams from the crowd called for Browne favorites like “Rosie” and “Doctor My Eyes.” As the crowd roared, Browne kicked into the upbeat “In the Shape of a Heart” off 1986’s Lives in the Balance.
Packed with masterful songwriting and visceral energy, Browne’s spot-on acoustic performance at the Arlington last Friday inspired an altogether different vibe than that of a show with a full band, a vibe where the audience was completely and collectively invested in each and every song.
Alternating between piano and several acoustics (which he explained were each tuned to one specific song), Browne offered absorbing and soulful renditions of some of his finest compositions. On the precocious “These Days,” he immersed himself in the song’s sweeping melody, his voice rich with compassion. Browne rocked his way through two uninhibited songs from well-known, sardonic singer/songwriter Warren Zevon, including “Mohammed’s Radio” and “Life’ll Kill Ya,” with similar conviction and conscience, making them sound both fresh and his own.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Jackson Browne set without a fervent tangent about his latest political efforts. “Not too long ago I was in the Galapagos Islands with a group of oceanographers, discussing ways to protect the ocean,” he described as he casually hit the keys on his keyboard. “The problem is so vast and the ocean is on its last legs, which is why we have to find alternatives to one-use plastic products. This is an entirely ‘plastic-free’ tour.” And in the spirit of his call to arms, Browne broke into “Rock Me on the Water.”
As if one legendary singer/songwriter wasn’t enough to blow the minds of those in the crowd, Browne’s longtime friend and mentor David Crosby allowed himself to be finagled from his seat and onto the stage. “This is so totally not fair,” Crosby jokingly uttered in his oversized, red button-down shirt and beanie. Crosby didn’t get too far into folk classic “Carry Me” before he announced that he couldn’t remember the words, ultimately resulting in some much-needed help from the screaming voices in the crowd. After a shaky yet enjoyable rendering of “Guinnevere,” Browne went on to close his powerful set with the hit “Running on Empty” and a two-song encore, including “Rosie,” ending the night with a powerful punch.