What do Jackson Browne’s masterful nearly three-hour set at L.A.’s Greek Theater and St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols’ pursuit of 700 career home runs have in common? A lot more than you’d think.
Both Browne and Pujols, in the early stages of their Hall of Fame careers (Pujols isn’t in yet, but is a sure fire first ballot member, and Browne is in both the Rock And Roll and Songwriter’s Hall of Fame), were perennial MVP candidates at the absolute pinnacle of their craft.
Both came out with immediate success — Pujols won Rookie Of The Year in 2001, while Browne hit the top ten with the hit single “Doctor My Eyes” — and followed up on that with a decade plus of subsequent dominance.
But that kind of peak popularity is largely unsustainable and both settled into being quiet superstars. For Browne the turning point came around the time of 1986’s highly underrated Lives In The Balance album. After four straight top ten albums and seven consecutive platinum certifications, Browne’s voice turned much more political on Lives In The Balance and the album failed to hit the top ten and went gold.
There were wonderful moments, including the poignant story, “In The Shape Of A Heart,” one of the high points during the Greek show. And that brings us to present day. Just as Pujols has captivated and reminded fans of his status as one of the all-time greats with his recent resurgence that has brought him near 700 careers homers, Browne and his stellar band did the same at the Greek, reminding everyone there is a damn good reason that Bruce Springsteen inducted him into the Rock Hall in 2004.
Opening with the 1982 top ten smash “Somebody’s Baby,” from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Browne wove through a long tapestry of both hits and timeless album cuts.
The songs he can draw upon showed anyone who may have forgot that Browne is in the elite of great American songwriters of the last 50 years. Just the three songs he performed from the classic Late For The Sky album — the haunting title cut, one of the greatest breakup songs ever composed; the superb “Fountain Of Sorrow” and the elegiac “For A Dancer,” my vote for the greatest song about death ever — would be enough to show why he is in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
There were countless other highlights though. The show was broken up into two sets with a brief intermission. In the first set some of the standout moments included “Rock Me On The Water,” the lovely “The Barricades Of Heaven,” the rocking title track from last year’s Downhill From Everywhere album and the set’s closer, a superb cover of Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot,” where Browne had some fun with the lyrics. In the song where Van Zandt wrote, “I am not a Republican,” Browne added, “Obviously,” in this version, drawing laughs. And he added, “I am not a homophobe” among other things. However, to me, the high point of the first set was the rarely played “That Girl Could Sing,” an underrated chestnut from 1980’s Hold Out album.
Watching Browne perform “That Girl Could Sing” and “Fountain Of Sorrow” in the first set reminded me of the Eagles current Hotel California tour. Just as Eagles fans come for the title track and “Life In The Fast Lane,” then see “Wasted Time” and “The Last Resort” and are reminded of the incredible depth and profoundness of the band’s catalog, fan coming to see “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running On Empty” were shown Browne’s catalog is so much more than just the hits.
That doesn’t mean, however, the hits weren’t a big part of the night. The main set ended with an absolutely raucous, joyous “Running On Empty,” delivered as a triumphant celebration of the song’s 45-year history as a centerpiece of Browne’s live show.
Leading into that was a fest of hits, including “The Pretender,’ “Doctor My Eyes,” “Late For The Sky” and “Redneck Friend,” among others. Every one of these songs was played with the combination of the fervor of a new band still hungry and the experience and wisdom of an artist who has lived more than 40 years of these songs. That was especially true of the stunning “These Days,” the song Browne pointed out was the oldest he played.
Just as impressive was a sweet rendition he played of the recent “The Dreamer,” a song celebrating immigrants. That was another Pujols-esque moment, as he showed that even if recent albums haven’t received the same attention as earlier works, he can still knock them out of the park.
That was one of the best messages of this night. Sure, Browne is a legend, but he isn’t living in the past. He is still very much a vibrant force in music in 2022.