Jackson Browne seemed refreshed.
Maybe by choosing Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams as his opening act – and new additional band members – he somehow hit the reboot button. Because on Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, not only was Browne was in good spirits, but he was generous, spontaneous and even fun. And the music was darn good, too.
To be sure, his music is still contemplative, wistful and melancholy for the most part. No complaints there. But he welcomed (and accommodated) requests from fans, tolerated (and responded to) shout-outs and seemed to enjoy being in the moment.
For instance, during “Rosie” (which he did by request), he stopped in the first verse and admitted he was in the wrong key. Later in the song, he asked his five male backup singers to “get more tender. This is a tender song. Try a little tenderness.”
In his recent Minneapolis concerts at the State Theatre (where this was one was supposed to have been held until there were water pipe problems on Tuesday), Browne has mentioned that his mother was from St. Paul. But this time he said he could have been born in Minneapolis if his mother from St. Paul hadn’t met a guy from California – in Alaska. He does have a sense of humor.
During the 130-minute performance, the Rock Hall of Famer actually talked quite a bit (and asked late in the show if he’d talked a lot) but it mostly made sense. He didn’t mention his new album, 2014’s “Standing in the Breach,” though he performed a few songs from it. When a seemingly well lubricated woman in the audience asked for him to have the backup singer perform “Happy Birthday” because it was her 50th, he managed to defuse the situation by telling the birthday gal to get a drink and not complain about the new tunes because he was playing plenty of oldies.
Browne, 67, did get a little preachy while setting up his more recent social commentary pieces including the ocean-loving “If I Could Be Anywhere” and “Standing in the Breach.” Frankly, none of the new tunes had the poetic panache of the classics he delivered on Tuesday including “For a Dancer” and “Fountain of Sorrow.”
He let Williams sing the lead on “My Opening Farewell” while he added harmonies on the choruses. Her husband, Campbell, was one of the nght's MVPs on electric guitar, mandolin and fiddle, which added an extra layer of melancholy to “For a Dancer.” Greg Leisz, a longtime Browne sideman, also provided invaluable shading on pedal steel, lap and acoustic guitars.
Williams and Campbell, who played with the late Levon Helm for about a decade, opened the evening (backed by Browne’s band) with a winning 45 minutes of sometimes twangy, sometimes spiritual Americana tunes from their self-titled debut album, which was released this year by St. Paul-based Red House Records. Campbell mentioned Red House but did not acknowledge his seven-year stint as a guitarist in Bob Dylan’s band.
Browne’s set list:
The Barricades of Heaven/ Just Say Yeah/ The Long Way Around/ Leaving Winslow/ These Days/ My Opening Farewell/ Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded (Warren Zevon)/ Rosie (by request)/ For Everyman/ I’m Alive/ For a Dancer/ Fountain of Sorrow/ Which Side/ If I Could Be Anywhere/ Standing in the Breach/ Running on Empty/ Take It Easy/ Our Lady of the Well ENCORE Load Out > Stay