Among many factors that might make an older rocker’s concerts seem new — frisky mood, cherished benefit, crazy stimulants — the best is great new material to show off. This way, the star isn’t dressing up an oldies show, but bending the old hits to revelations found in the new tunes. You can say that Jackson Browne’s three-hour tour of his beloved songbook at the bowl last Wednesday was sparked into bliss by the numbers drawn from his latest CD, Standing In the Breach, though he opened with a nice unexpected treat: “The Barricades of Heaven,” from 1996’s Looking East, played as a leisurely jam, allowing all of his musicians a chance to work it out and the crowd a chance to sink into it. The evening was fine, and a grinning, boyish-looking, 66-year-old Browne seemed in leisurely control.
Drawing primarily from Breach, Browne’s best work in decades, made sense. Songs like “Yeah Yeah” and “The Long Way Around” felt familiar, and Browne played them like his old home brand of country psychedelia. The dynamics were often awesome — Browne’s guys moved from folk and country into big quasi-show tunes like the political rant “Which Side Are You On.” The Woody Guthrie cover You Know the Night” provided hypnotic folk contrast and real human depth to Browne’s often generalizing lyrics. Then smaller wonders like “For a Dancer” and “Fountains of Sorrow” over brimmed the bowl.
The least interesting aspects of the night was Browne’s political causes — the show was a benefit for Sanctuary House, an alternative retreat for people suffering psychological problems — and even a weird speech about being called an “outsider” in our town didn’t perk up the cause songs. But Browne would not be Browne without the idealism, and the finale, stretching to two solid encores left those of us who had seen Browne in the last few years happily surprised by the new passion. Standard-issues like “Doctor My Eyes,” but also happy surprises like “Our Lady of the Well” and “The Load Out” reminded us that he’s been around but his appeal hasn’t run empty yet.