Monday, July 23, 2012

more than the music...

 Encore?    “I wish you could join me,” I’d e-mailed my younger daughter, as I reflected on music we loved to share. While hitting SEND, I sighed. She is in Israel.

So I went alone, mindful of an unusual note from DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center about the performance:

Dear DPAC Guest,
We wanted to let ticket buyers know that there has been a change in the format of Sunday's Jackson Browne concert. Our original marketing information was that the show would have an acoustic format. We have just been advised that the show has grown into a band format, and though it will have acoustic moments, there is now a full five-piece band backing Jackson Browne. We're excited about this change and hope you are too.

“Band format”? Of little concern to me, I felt even more certain that I’d hear “Runnin’ on Empty.” Indeed, memories of that one song had propelled me to purchase my $61 ticket. Many years ago, my brother had raved about Browne, especially about that song. Even now, I think of my brother when it’s played.

Excited as I was, I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the Center thanks to another note from DPAC about a Durham Bulls baseball game set to begin just before the concert started. Parking problems aside, there was a second reason. I’d read this from DPAC also:

Seating Area Opens @ 7:00 pm
Sara Watkins Begins @ 7:30 pm
Intermission @ 8:30 pm
Jackson Browne @ 8:50 pm
                      Performance Ends @ 10:30 pm

Sara Watkins? My daughter may have known Watkins as a member of Nickel Creek. Wikipedia informed me. I was impressed to read that she’d been a Prairie Home Companion guest host on January 15, 2011.

Even so, I wasn’t in a hurry. Pumped as I was about hearing Browne, I knew that Watkin’s appearance meant I’d return home after midnight. That thought led me to think I might take a short nap while she sang.

But I couldn’t. She was that impressive, that talented, both as a musician and as a vocalist. Indeed, it disturbed me to hear some yokel in the seats near me yell “Jackson!” when she briefly paused between songs. Many in the audience shared my ire, although Watkins handled the taunt with aplomb.

By the time she announced, “Only two more songs,” I was ready to give her a standing ovation at the end of her set. Turning to the left of the stage, she said, “Hey, Jackson.” Browne joined her for her final songs. Then came intermission.

Fifteen minutes before he was scheduled to play, he returned to the stage. That suggested he may have wanted to leave early. I wondered whether ticket holders of the many empty seats to my right and left would be disappointed. Thirty minutes later, I had my answer; those seats had never been sold.

“This may be a sad song,” Browne mused. “Hell, all of my songs are sad songs,” he said with a smile. “Here’s a song about Haiti,” he said. As he played, I noted that it sounded a lot like his old songs, songs the audience had shouted for, almost insistently. In fact, I felt that the screamers were obnoxious. Although, like me, they wanted to hear oldies, I was more interested in listening to Browne, the man and the musician.

Was he bowing out? He played an intro to a song then stopped, as if searching for the right key. Finding it, he began again then paused. As if laughing at himself, he said, “All my songs start this way. Seems like I would have learned a few new licks.”

Such a comment endeared him to me. Minutes later, he had his talented guitarist take center stage and play a song from his (the guitarist’s) new album. Sara Watkins joined in. Browne told us how great the song is.

So I listened. It was OK. And, later, Browne was OK.

Actually, he was better than OK. What it seemed he was doing was transitioning, clearing a path for younger musicians. Almost my age, Browne earned my applause for that. Much of the concert seemed a personal reminiscence, a sort of jam session. Ignoring a hail of requests throughout the show, he did what he wanted to do.

So did I. I stood at the end of a song I hadn’t recognized and left. As I walked to my car in a distant parking garage, I passed his tour’s magnificent busses, still running.

In a very real sense, I’d gotten what I came for. I saw into the man who campaigned for John Edwards and who sued the John McCain campaign for using “Running on Empty” without permission.

And I thought I heard him say that his oldest songs couldn’t possibly define him. Although I left his concert without regrets, I couldn’t recall feeling so sober at the end of any other I’d attended.

As I walked to my car, I felt that the night was too warm and too humid. Still, I was thankful that I didn’t have to explain to my daughter why there was no music pounding in my brain to distract me from this summer’s ordinary heat.

B. Koplen 7/23/12

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