After opening his Monday night Artpark set with an understated version of his single “I’ll Do Anything,” Jackson Browne placed his Martin electric back in a stacked rack of guitars and brushed shoulder-length hair from his face. Solitary, serene and bathed in the blue hue of amphitheater illumination, the ageless singer/songwriter needed to prep the evening’s crowd for the show’s order – or lack thereof.
“I know I don’t have to say this, but there’s no set list,” said Browne. “Tonight I’ll basically play anything.”
This open-minded approach might seem like more of a drunken gamble for less seasoned musicians. But for Browne – an artist whose Hall of Fame career has touched fans and fellow musicians alike through five decades – such spontaneity merely creates a new experience, night after night. And on Monday, fans were treated to (and participated in) over two hours of such harmonious disorder via the narrative direction of one of rock’s most influential storytellers.
Now, does constructing your entire show via whim, feeling and the shouted requests of aging baby boomers sound like a good idea? Not unless your catalog can actually support such demands – and Browne’s can. Songs rife with personal lyrics across vivid landscapes have not only colored the California native’s career, but have connected with fans who have aged with every album. Sides of vinyl lined with sublime professions of love, loyalty and heartache have remained timeless, so why not allow the night to choose how each spins? That’s how it’s worked on Browne’s current one-man tour, with stripped-down tracks delivered via vocals, piano and guitar.
And that’s how it would operate in Lewiston, albeit with a never-ending stream of fan suggestions bellowed between the trio’s eventual utilization.
After continuing his first set with the piano-led “Rock Me On The Water” and the childhood home-inspired “Looking Into You,” Browne followed crowd direction to eschew a Gibson acoustic for a plugged-in polished black Fender on “In The Shape Of A Heart.” After finding his way to the end, he switched out guitars for a second time before again addressing the night’s planned progression.
“There’s two ways this show can go: Either I can play whatever someone shouts out, or – .” Before he could continue, a fan interjected with, “Play everything!” To this, Browne responded, “And that’s the other way it can go.”
This option seemed to be the preferred direction the remainder of the first set, as Browne expertly darted from the guitar-aided Springsteen imagery of “The Barricades Of Heaven” and emotive notes of “Fountain of Sorrow” to the rollicking skip of breakthrough hit “Doctor My Eyes” and recollections of Ridgemont High on “Somebody’s Baby.” Though all struck different chords, all walked fans past the type of detailed characters, dissecting freeways and dire circumstances that have always found their way into Browne’s work. And since the voice, musicianship and healthy mane behind these songs haven’t aged much, fans weren’t forced to strain for distant recollection. Monday night brought fresh versions of favorites, one after another.
The second set featured more of the same. Creative fan demands earned the steel guitar-led “Your Bright Baby Blues”; the brooding rebellion of “Looking East”; and the island-vibed rarity “Everywhere I Go” – which took a few false starts for Browne to remember the lyrics. On the other side of these requests were well-known hits like “Running On Empty,” “The Pretender” and the night’s high point on Glenn Frey collaboration “Take It Easy” before the subdued “Our Lady Of The Well” and “Before The Deluge” sandwiched a rousing cover of Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot” for the night’s three-song encore.