JACKSON BROWNE: FAR FROM RUNNING ON EMPTY – by Diane Fleischman

Story & Photographs by Diane Fleischman

 

There were only a few scattered seats left unoccupied Sunday night at The Sands Event Center as an eager crowd welcomed Jackson Browne and opening act Vonda Shepard.

The name Vonda Shepard should sound familiar.  She was a back-up vocalist for Browne’s band for years, and probably best known for the theme song to the television show,  ‘Ally McBeal’, with “Searching My Soul”.  The series ran for five years, and as series wound down, more of her music became woven into the show, which also produced a few cameo performances in one of the night clubs the characters would visit. 

She told the crowd that Jackson made a bet with her.  If she released a new album, she could open for Browne’s May dates.  And lo and behold, she performed several songs on piano from her new release.  Shepard’s vocals covered a great range, with humor and banter thrown in her set.  As expected, she closed with “Searching My Soul” and fully embraced the song’s popularity. 

After a brief intermission, Jackson Browne took the stage, sat down at the piano, and opened with “Before the Deludge” (Late For The Sky).  The song took us back to 1974, and if one was to think this would be a chronological set, spanning Browne’s 45-year (or so) career, we were mistaken.  “Some Bridges” (Looking East) followed, as Jackson took center stage on guitar, then “You Love the Thunder” (Running on Empty). 

This was not just a night to celebrate the classic hits, as “The Dreamer” was introduced as a new release.  He explained the collaboration with Los Cenzontles, and the song provided a Spanish flair in the intro.  The verses were sung in English, the choruses in Spanish. 

Browne added more diversity in sound with “Lives of the Balance”, as the back up vocalists provided powerful R&B and gospel harmonies. 

The audience clapped along to “Doctor My Eyes” (Saturate Before Using), as Browne moved back on piano.  Some fans rose to their feet to dance along and by the end, received a small standing ovation. 

There’s a lot to be said for performing the hits as they were originally recorded, and in Browne’s case, the formula worked.  Joined onstage with longtime band members, Val McCallum on guitar, Bob Glaub on bass, and Greg Leisz on the pedal steel player, this seventies southern California sound not only holds up well, but sounds better than ever.  

While there was a set list in place, it didn’t stop many hard-core fans as they yelled their favorite requests.  Other songs performed were:  “These Days”, “Shaky Town”, “Never Stop”, and in “I am a Patriot/It’s Your Thing”, Browne received the first full standing ovation.  “Somebody’s Baby” received a slightly faster tempo, and Vonda Shepard joined in on “World in Motion”.  Back on piano, Browne performed “Sky Blue and Black” (I’m Alive), and then effortlessly changed over to guitar for “In a Shape of a Heart” (Lives in the Balance). 

As the set wound down, fans were elated to hear “The Pretender”, and the set closed with “Running on Empty” with the audience on their feet as they danced and sang along.  Browne returned with a two-song encore, “Take it Easy”, and “Our Lady of the Well”. 

Browne performed for close to two and a half hours with a twenty-song set.  The songs held up to the test of time, while the lyrics still carry relevance.  Browne’s classic hits remain the same, providing comfort in challenging times.