Jackson Browne was 16 years
old and something of a wunderkind in 1968 when he wrote a brilliant song
called "These Days" for Nico, the exotic German chanteuse who had recently
split from the Velvet Underground.
The unnaturally youthful California singer-songwriter performed the
typically beautiful and heartbreakingly romantic tune as the fourth song in
his set before a devoted following at the Rosemont Theatre on Sunday night,
and it epitomized the unique performance.
Secure in his considerable talents, Browne has always been an
extraordinarily generous artist, freely giving of himself to his peers. This
was on full display Sunday as he started the evening by joining his two
opening acts, Steve Earle and Keb' Mo', for a low-key acoustic hootenanny,
effectively introducing the roots rocker and the modern bluesman to any of
his fans who may have been unfamiliar with them.
Later, Browne joined Mo' on piano and backing vocals for part of the
bluesman's set. And the evening came to a climactic conclusion with Mo',
Earle and Dukes guitarist Eric "Roscoe" Ambel joining the star's seven-piece
band to power through another tune he gave away, the Eagles' hit and
unofficial California state anthem, "Take It Easy."
Ironically, though Browne introduced it as "a song that everybody knows,"
Earle and Mo' both flubbed the verses that Browne gave them to sing. But the
song's co-author just stepped back, rolled his eyes and smiled broadly as if
to say, "Why let ego stand in the way of a good time jamming with friends?"
Fans may have been disappointed that Browne played a mere 13 songs in his
own set proper, only a few more than each of his openers offered. But he
rewarded their loyalty by honoring some of their shouted requests, and by
digging deep into his sizable catalog to offer some rarities (including
"These Days" and 1986's fetching "In the Shape of a Heart") as well as the
expected hits ("Doctor My Eyes," "Running on Empty").
Like the once-ubiquitous smiley-face icon and long lines at the gas
stations, Browne could be dismissed by cynics as a dated symbol of the '70s.
The playing of his slick but soulful band was a perfect example of that
era's "California sound"; he's still wedded to the fashions and hairstyle of
the time, and his non-compromising, media-phobic approach to the business of
pop stardom seems like a noble anachronism in these days of the eager
But when he wraps those gorgeous vocals (undiminished by the passing of
time) around a characteristically heartfelt and poignant lyric ("It was a
ruby that she wore/ On a chain around her neck/In the shape of a heart/It
was a time I won't forget/For the sorrow and regret/And the shape of a
heart"), the effect, like that of any great song or poem, is utterly
timeless and transcendent.
Browne's faith in him aside (and despite his amusing stage patter), Mo'
is a much lesser talent as a songwriter, as he proved during a fairly
generic set in the middle of the evening. But while Chicago favorite Earle
was unusually restrained during his performance with the Dukes, riveting and
politically charged tunes such as "John Walker's Blues" and the title track
of his last album, "Jerusalem," are sure to be every bit as powerful 35
years from now as "These Days" or any of the songs performed by the night's