Time might be the conqueror, but not yet. Not in Jackson Browne’s case. The 68 year-old, still slim and cool with his traditional flowing locks now flecked with grey, played a blistering concert in front of a rapt audience at The Sage, Gateshead, backed by a terrific band consisting of the stellar Jeff Young (keyboards) Val McCallum (guitar), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (Vocals), Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel) and an outstanding drummer in Mauricio Lewak, who brought deft rhythmic subtlety and percussive power to the set.
Browne’s between song-chat and occasional humorous trade-offs with an eager audience, keen to sway the direction of the set list, meandered engagingly and added to the effusive atmosphere already engendered by the music, particularly in his introduction to Something Fine, which managed – in a round about way - to take in recollections of Stephen Stills, an apartment in London, romance and an earthquake in California! He was in fine voice, too, the lower pitch of his older voice adding more resonance and emotional depth to familiar songs like the one of the evening’s standouts, For a Dancer, one of several occasions where he switched from guitar to piano.
Delving into his back catalogue, he played tracks off most of his albums, including many favourites such as Doctor My Eyes, For Everyman, Running on Empty, In the Shape of a Heart and These Days, but he also featured newer numbers like The Long Way Around from his most recent album, Standing in the Breach (2014).
While Browne may be known for his forthright political views, he touched on issues without lecturing and saw fit to be self-effacing while covering Randy Newman’s A Piece of the Pie, an excoriating but sardonic look at the wealth gap at a time when ‘no-one gives a shit but Jackson Browne.’
This cover was one of three in the set; the others were Walls and Doors, by the Cuban writer and singer Carlos Varela, and Carmelita by one of his old sparring partners, the late Warren Zevon, which was another of the show’s highlights, lapped up by an appreciative audience.
Called back for an encore by a packed house - the crowd now on its feet, clapping and even dancing - the band played the opening notes of Take It Easy and everyone joined in! in the audience knew it had witnessed something special and it would have been the perfect end to the night, but he managed to top it. Just as on his second album, Browne segued effortlessly into Our Lady of the Well, a romantic song with a political edge, to serve as a reminder that the cruel and senseless shadow over the USA of 1973 has been replaced by an even more senseless one.