Given the mellow SoCal sound that he is known for, it is somewhat surprising to know that Jackson Browne wrote and played songs on the magical 1967 debut album “Chelsea Girl” from ex-Velvet Underground femme fatale/chanteuse Nico. Yes, that’s right. Browne once hung out with the Warhol crowd and was romantically involved with Nico, as a teenager no less.
While Browne later recorded his own version of “These Days” for the album “For Everyman” — which I find inferior to Nico’s version, with Browne’s accompaniment on fingerpicked guitar — amazingly no one, including Browne, seems to have recorded versions of his other contributions to Nico’s album, most notably “The Fairest of the Seasons.” Pity. Although this was used on the soundtrack of The Royal Tenenbaums, it seems doomed to obscurity.
The Jackson Browne we’re all more familiar with hatched five years later in 1972 with his self-titled debut album, more commonly known as “Saturate Before Using,” and the Browne-co-written single “Take It Easy,” which launched the career of the Eagles. This was followed by a string of classic albums — my favorite is 1974’s “Late for the Sky” — culminating in 1977’s mega-hit album “Running on Empty,” the title song recently in the news when Browne sued John McCain’s presidential campaign for using it without permission in a commercial.
It seems fitting that Browne would be involved in such a dispute involving politics, given his involvement in the anti-nukes movement and his anti-Reagan stance in the 1980s. Browne received an apology from McCain — noting in Rolling Stone that “getting a politician to admit they made a mistake is one of the hardest things in the world” — and an undisclosed amount of money. However, mainly he was fighting on behalf of other musicians to protect their copyrights.
The songs “Take It Easy” and “Running on Empty” were two of many highlights of Browne’s concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday night. Introducing the former, he joked that for a long time he wouldn’t sing it except in the car because “I felt like I was singing an Eagles song.” But, Browne continued, “I said, ‘F*** it, I love this song.’” Clearly, the crowd did, too!
Other crowd favorites included oldies “Fountain of Sorrow,” “Doctor My Eyes,” “The Pretender,” “Stay” and the show-closing medley of the roadie tribute song “The Load Out” — in which Browne qualified the lyric “working for that minimum wage” by saying, “Well, they used to.” His later songs — those from the 1980s on, including from his 2008 album “Time the Conqueror” — clearly were not as well known to the audience. They were well-received, though, as they typically fit nicely into the mid-tempo, reflective, laid-back mold that characterizes his sound.
Browne’s voice, now that of a 60-year-old, still sounds as good as it did on his 1970s albums. He played guitar and keyboards, and had superb support from his band, which includes Kevin McCormick on bass, Mark Goldenberg on guitar, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Jeff Young on keyboards, Luis Conte on percussion, and Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills on backing vocals.
Browne seemed genuinely happy to be playing the Bowl, reminiscing about the times he saw shows or played there. After saying “It’s such a trip to be back here,” he noted that his foremost memory was seeing a couple making love at the top of the Bowl during his first performance at the venue.
I didn’t see anything like that Sunday night, at least not in the cheap seats, but love for Browne was certainly in the air.