Review | Jackson Browne at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Still Running on a Pure Heart After All These Years

Jackson Browne at the Santa Barbara Bowl | Credit: Carl Perry

“My first album came out 50 years ago,” Jackson Browne told the sold out Santa Barbara Bowl crowd on September 7. Hearing him play two of the top singles — “Doctor, My Eyes” and “Rock Me on the Water” — from that 1972 album, Saturate Before Using, was a sentimental journey for most of us in the crowd.

I wasn’t quite old enough to go to Jackson Browne’s first Bowl show in 1975, but I clearly remember seeing him in 1983, 1992 (performing with Christopher Cross and Michael MacDonald at an Earth Day benefit show), 1996 (performing with Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley at Gail Marshall for Supervisor benefit), with Tom Petty in 2002, and on and on and on. I’m a longtime fan for sure.

A social justice warrior with the heart and the soul of a poet, I’m convinced that one of the reasons for Browne’s enduring popularity is how easy his songs are to sing along with him. One of my favorite sing-along songs is “That Girl Could Sing,” his 1980 hit that he introduced by saying it was about a beautiful girl he’d see driving around in a Jeep in L.A.  “That Dude Can Sing” too, just as beautifully, and with just as much heart as ever. 

His signature brown locks may have turned to gray — though he still has a remarkably good head of hair for a 73-year-old — but when I closed my eyes I was right back at all of those other concerts, and enjoying myself every bit as much. 

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Which is not to say that Jackson Browne does not have new music. He played quite a bit of it in his 2 hour and 45 minute set, including “Downhill From Everywhere,” from the same-named 2021 album, a poignant tune about the environment and the idea that everything eventually flows to the ocean. “The Dreamer,” was another beautifully sensitive 2021 song about immigrants. 

But the crowd, of course, came to hear their old favorites, and Browne willingly obliged with a final chapter that included “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty,” “Take it Easy” (which he co-wrote with the Eagles’ Glenn Frey), and of course, the best concert ending song ever, “Stay,” his 1977 ode to the audience  “The Load Out/Stay,” with the lyrics: “Now the promoter don’t mind / And the roadies don’t mind / If we take a little time / And we leave this all behind and sing /One more song.” (My favorite version is this one, featuring Browne, Rosemary Butler, and David Lindley.) 

It was so great to hear one more song from an old favorite who still has that same pure, musical heart, even — or maybe especially — after all these years. 

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