Early in his career, a young Jackson Browne bore the benefit of fortuitous circumstances (his song “These Days” was first covered when he was just 18, and there were six versions of it by other artists before it appeared on his second album in 1973). He also made a series of well-considered decisions that enhanced his emerging body of work. Paramount among these was the hiring of David Lindley, a master of practically anything with strings (guitars, lap steel, oud, bouzouki, fiddle). Lindley’s gleefully lunatic intensity and wildly screaming tonalities contrasted with Browne’s polite bearing. While his name is not as well known, Lindley’s solos (as well as his falsetto vocals on “Stay”) have been as indelibly printed in the memories of millions as Browne’s songs of introspection and questing.
Jackson Browne’s current tour reunites him with Lindley. This coincides with the release of Love Is Strange, an acoustic live set recorded in Spain a few years ago. Browne clearly was energized by the experience of reconfiguring his work with his old friend, and it is that spirit which empowered the first set at the Palace Theatre this past Tuesday. The duo opened with a pair of choice covers, both sung by Lindley (with Browne harmonizing), Warren Zevon’s “Seminole Bingo” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge.” Seated, with acoustic guitars (or an oud in Lindley’s case), the pair had an easy manner that belied their formidable craft, and it was especially affecting to hear Browne’s skillful playing, more than mere support and foundation. Two of his songs followed, “For Everyman” and “Looking East,” after which he left the stage to Lindley, who made dynamic use of it, playing two numbers with one of his hilariously free-ranging anecdotes offered up between them. His tale of an afternoon of binging on the History Channel led into a version of Danny O’Keefe’s “He Would Have Loved You More Than Eva Braun.”
And then that was it. Forty-five minutes, bye-bye Jackson and David show, clear away the acoustic setup and bring on the band. After a 15-minute break, Browne returned with his four-piece band and a pair of back-up singers. What followed for nearly two hours was pretty
much standard issue Jackson Browne concertage: recent numbers (“Giving That Heaven Away,” “Off of Wonderland”) interspersed with fan favorites nearing their 40-year mark. After five songs, Lindley was added to the band and came through with electrifying solos, but it was the Standard Jackson Browne Concert with Special Guest David Lindley, rather than the more explorative, intimate and bracing opening set.
There were high points: “For a Dancer” with Lindley on fiddle; the still-rollicking “Doctor My Eyes” (albeit hampered by the night’s indistinct bass sound); the closing “Running on Empty”; and the encore of “Mercury Blues,” featuring Lindley, and played with enough force to unmoor the Palace and drag it to the river. Even though there were plenty of people taking bad photos they’d then sit and examine, cropping and fussing with them while the performance was rolling, the full and enthusiastic audience made it clear they’d accept pretty much anything Browne would do. But can’t we a full two hours with Lindley, like they had in Spain? Plus seeing the two of them sitting side-by-side answers the question, “What would it look like if Jason Schwartzman sat down next to Captain Ahab and they both picked up guitars?”