I’m beginning to understand why some performers stop touring. Aside from the wear and tear it takes on them personally and how it takes them away from family and loved ones, there’s having to put up with the array of idiots who show up for concerts. Why is it that people think that attending a concert gives them permission to act with complete disregard for either the performer or those in the audience around them? Perhaps more pertinent is the question of why a facility would not only be unequipped to enforce their own policies, but create an environment which fosters this sort of behaviour.
We are asked to pay upwards of $100.00 per ticket to attend an event only to be forced to put up with drunken assholes carrying on conversations at the top of their lungs, people talking on their cell phones during the concert (and talking loudly enough to make sure they can hear themselves over the music), and having our eyes continually assaulted by the illegal use of camera flash equipment.
Sure, concerts are going to be boisterous events; a large group of excited people brought together to listen to something as stimulating as popular music isn’t going to be restrained. However, considering that, is it really a good idea to sell alcohol, and allow people to take cans and bottles back to their seats, during these events? Isn’t that just adding gasoline to a fire? When I used to attend concerts back in the dark ages of the late 20th century, everybody entering the arena was at least patted down to see if they were carrying anything and bags were opened to make sure no one had cameras, recording equipment, or bottles. The latter would be confiscated while in the case of the former the person carrying them would be given the option of either leaving them with security personnel and collecting them after the concert or turning around and going home.
On Friday, April 8, 2011, someone who I’ve been wanting to see since the late 1970s performed in Kingston, Ontario. To be honest, I never thought Jackson Browne would show up here, but on Wednesday, April 6, I found out he was going to be playing at the local arena, the K-Rock Centre. After a brief flurry of e-mails I was able to not only arrange for tickets to the event but permission to photograph with Jackson Browne’s management/public relations team in California, Jensen Communications. I had originally asked about the chances of interviewing Browne, and they were most apologetic, saying that no on-site interviews were being conducted, but would I be interested in tickets and a photo pass. Even though I had already purchased tickets on my own, I gave them to a friend for a birthday present. I was thrilled. Not only could we attend the concert, my wife, who has among many careers been a professional photographer, would be able to take photos. Sure, there were stipulations – no flash, only during the first three songs, and only from the designated area – but since we figured no one else was even going to be allowed to take photos, this was great.
While I’m enormously pissed off at the facility for not only their inadequate security and lack of staffing in the arena – there was no one in the section I ended up sitting in to show people where their seats were, even after the concert started, which resulted in people trying to find their seats on their own in the dark – I have to say the individual working with the media not only did a fine job, she went above and beyond what was required. She not only did her best to accommodate the needs of each photographer, she made sure my wife, who suffers from vertigo, was escorted directly to her seat.
Of course by then I was wondering why they had even bothered with requiring us to sign a permission release for taking photos as the whole damned arena exploded with flash eruptions the second Browne took the stage. Not only that, but the press photographers were all forced to cram themselves into a nook beside the stage and shoot sideways across while standing on wires and cables. They were also the only ones who apparently had to surrender their cameras before they were allowed in to see the show, as while all around me people were taking pictures, my wife’s cameras were sitting at a security station.
What about the concert itself? Well, it was Jackson Browne on his own, either sitting at a piano or with a guitar, running through his entire repertoire. It should have been an amazing experience, as the man is one of the most heartfelt and gifted singer/songwriters around, and at times it was. When the audience allowed him to sit and play he immersed himself in the music and transported us along with him. Initially he attempted to keep things loose and friendly, allowing the audience to suggest songs and happily agreeing with the requests. Unfortunately, due to the audience, this process gradually became a distraction. As a result, every time he tried to talk to the audience he was shouted down by requests for the same four songs over and over again.
Thankfully, Browne’s a wonderful enough performer he was able to rise above the circumstances and deliver moments of pure magic. There aren’t many people who can sit alone on stage and command one’s attention to the extent he was able to on this night when given the chance. “Fountains Of Sorrow” has always been one of my favourite songs of his, and his performance of it was everything I could have wished for. That’s not to say there was anything lacking with any of the material as Browne didn’t skimp or hold back ever. There were songs I was disappointed not to hear, but some of his material just wouldn’t translate from the full band sound to solo that well, although I would have preferred to hear “Looking East” and “I’m Alive” over crowd favourites “Rosie” and “The Load Out/Stay” any day of the week.
That being said, he did a remarkable job of taking familiar pieces and transposing them for solo performance. The versions of “Running On Empty”, “Taking It Easy”, and “The Pretender” he delivered on this night were not only adapted for solo performer, they seemed far more introspective than the studio versions. Slowed down, and without a rock and roll accompaniment propelling them, the first two songs were far more coloured by the patina of memory then ever before, and much more emotionally powerful for it. To be honest I’d never been the biggest fan of either song, as I thought that Browne had been a bit young at the time to write something as retrospective as “Running”, and there was always something just a little distasteful about “Taking It Easy”; its homage to 1970s California Me Decade hedonism always rubbed me the wrong way. However, as they were performed on this night, more than 30 years after each was written, there was a certain wistfulness for days gone by – a loss of innocence mourned and life was simpler then (not better ) – that lent them a compelling air neither have had before and was far easier to accept and believe as a result.
Quite a number of songs he played over the course of the evening could have easily be called memory songs. Not nostalgia for a better time, but a looking back on the hopes and dreams of a generation. A song I hadn’t heard before, and the title escapes me, recounted an encounter he had with a young woman during a concert 40 years ago. He introduced it with a rather sheepish laugh about the days of “free love” (which resulted in the disappointing but hardly unexpected reaction from the idiots in the crowd). What could have been an awkward or sentimental song in the hands of another was, under Browne’s delicate touch, a sweetly gentle reminder of what was actually meant by the “free” in free love. It was something individuals could control, not another commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. It was free not in the sense of everybody should take what they want from whomever they wanted, but in it is the one thing that is ours to give as we choose, which makes it all the more precious.
Jackson Browne has shown he has the ability to transcend the usual simplicity associated with the popular music format through the depth of his integrity and his heart-centred music. Compassion, humour, intelligence, and an acute awareness of the world around him have, over the years, allowed him to write songs that speak truths about subjects as diverse as love, war, and the human condition in general without ever falling into the trap of sentimentality, offering simplistic solutions to complex issues or knee-jerk reactions. Seeing him in performance one can’t help but be struck by his generosity of spirit and the genuineness of his sincerity.
However that doesn’t mean time has not had its effect on him; but, like an oak, age has merely made him sturdier and increased his substance rather than wearing him down and eroding his message. Proof of this can be found on his most recent release, Love Is Strange, a two-disc recording of concerts he gave in Spain with his long time confederate, musician, and polyester fashion statement, David Lindley, and various friends of theirs. It’s only a pity those of us who attended the concert in Kingston, Ontario on April 8 were not given the opportunity to appreciate Jackson Browne’s abilities to their fullest. It’s a shame when such a talented artist’s performance is overshadowed by a facility’s inability to properly stage an event. Only Browne’s extraordinary abilities allowed those in the audience there for his music a chance to enjoy the experience at all as Kingston’s K-Rock Centre failed dismally in its responsibilities as host.
(Photo Credits : Jackson Browne in concert, Eriana Marcus. Portrait of Jackson Browne, Danny Clinch)