Gray clouds gathered over Red Rocks as Jackson Browne fans made the ascending pilgrimage to the amphitheater. When Browne stepped on stage with sideman David Lindley, winds had whipped up, blowing Browne’s hallmark long hair.
This year, Browne’s label released “Love Is Strange,” a Spanish reunion with Lindley. The duo opened with a tune by Browne’s late friend Warren Zevon, with Lindley commanding lead vocals. Browne struggled with his ear monitor, conferred with a soundman and carried on despite technical difficulties.
Browne and Lindley covered a Bruce Springsteen song, setting the tone for a show of strings wizardry. Browne clearly is enamored of his bevy of guitars. He keeps an apartment in Barcelona, and flamenco has infiltrated his musical consciousness. Lindley adds exoticism with world instruments: Hawaiian lap steel guitar, Turkish saz and chumbus, Middle Eastern oud and fiddle with Celtic flair.
“It gets a little windy up here,” said Lindley, understating the impact of buffeting gusts.
“You know it’s going to change,” Browne said of the weather, “so you hope it changes into something better.”
Not the case. As the patterned polyester-shirt-clad pair performed an acoustic rendition of “Looking East,” drizzle turned to sincere rain. Cold rain. The vendor with the braided white beard who was hawking hemp ice cream had few takers.
“I know you’re all-weather people,” Browne said before he left Mr. Dave to solo a few songs. Hunkered over all manner of string instruments, Lindley accompanied his Bob Dylanesque voice with mind-bending string bending. Quirky sense of humor obviously intact, Lindley closed with “Cat Food Sandwiches,” his ode to ill effects of bad backstage food.
The audience valiantly endured show-delaying showers. Roadies wiped down keyboards and drumheads, shrouded instruments in plastic tarps. At about 9:30 p.m., when rain let up, Browne and his band came on.
“Is everybody all right?” Browne asked his soggy audience, then opened with “Off of Wonderland.” The mercurial set ranged from melancholic “Bright Baby Blues” and “For a Dancer” to uptempo tunes like “Just Say Yeah.” Hits such as “The Pretender” and “Take It Easy” inspired dancing.
Browne has assembled an admirable band. When backed up by his two female vocalists and keyboardist Jeff Young, four-part harmony fills up the heart’s deep chambers. Lindley’s resplendent instrumental twang tweaks new favorites in Browne’s canon and freshens “Doctor My Eyes,” “Running on Empty” and other old standards with historic waves.
“We’re always excited to play Red Rocks,” Browne said. “I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played here, but it’s always great; and this has to be my favorite town.”
For all his superb acoustic efforts, Browne still rocks. On “Mercury Blues,” Browne and his band kicked up an encore electrical. Stars winked overhead as the show ended with “I Am a Patriot,” given a reggae twist.
Speaking of twists, Jackson Browne’s mercantile trafficked in not only CDs and T-shirts, but also bamboo cutlery and stainless steel water bottles reflecting Browne’s green bent, as well as “Love Is Strange” condoms.
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Colleen Smith’s first novel, “Glass Halo,” is available now through FridayJonesPublishing.com.
Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.