Jackson Browne charmed the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday with two generous sets that mixed songs from his recent album, Time the Conqueror, with scores of his most familiar hits, including “Doctor My Eyes,” “Fountain of Sorrow,” and “The Loadout/Stay.” For Browne, who looked relaxed and healthy in a simple dark purple paisley shirt, the theme of the show seemed to be memories, as he reminisced in relation to several songs, recalling the circumstances in which they were written or particularly memorable times he had played them. For most of his stories, Browne steered clear of name-dropping, leaving the identities of key players tantalizingly indistinct. We heard about girlfriends, and friends who were women, and just friends, all of them involved in one way or another with inspiring Browne either to write a song, or to get him to resurrect one of the classic numbers he had set aside. And all the music, new and old, sounded glorious on this foggy August night.
The first set included “Fountain of Sorrow,” a song that Browne stopped performing for a time; it seems that along with his nostalgia has come a more accepting attitude toward his back catalogue. The audience was grateful for the hits, but still interested by the recent material, which is strong and holds up well by comparison. Part of that success is a result of the rapport Browne has developed throughout the years with his longtime collaborators in the band, and part is due to what seems to be a newfound sense of ownership that Browne has acquired since releasing his latest album on his own label, Inside Recordings.
“Lives in the Balance,” updated with a verse about 9/11 and Iraq, was a highlight, especially for Browne’s longtime bassist Kevin McCormick and sensational keyboard player Jeff Young. Like the nonprofit activist organization booths set up in the Bowl’s courtyard (representing, among others, the Ojai Raptor Center), “Lives in the Balance” reminded people of Browne’s political commitments-and in many cases, what appealed to them about Browne when they first discovered him. Mark Goldenberg and Browne took care of the complex guitar arrangements on many of the songs together, and were supplied all night with freshly tuned axes by a guitar tech who was then brought on to solo. Of course, this is all in keeping with the egalitarian backstage ethic Browne immortalized in the song “The Loadout,” which made a perfect encore for a deeply satisfying concert.