Review by John Halverson
"Wanna hang out after the show?" yelled a female voice of questionable age.
That gentle come-on came half way through the Jackson Browne concert at the incredible Coronado Theater in Rockford Friday night and it might have been the best six-word description of the performance.
Jackson Browne is someone you'd just like to hang with.
With only a row of guitars to choose from and a piano for company, Browne put on a three-hour performance filled with nearly as much friendly banter as music. And while contemporaries like Van Morrison and James Taylor are still putting out great music, they-like most of this audience-look their age.
Even though he turned 55 in October, Browne looked lean, well rested and in possession of every follicle of hair he had when he first stirred our souls with songs like "Doctor My Eyes" and "Running on Empty" in the late '60s and early '70s.
While catcalls for those songs were heard constantly throughout the performance (and interrupted anyone indulging in dreamy reflection), Browne rarely indulged in nostalgia. Like many legendary performers he selected songs that reflected more present than past.
"I usually prefer to take requests for obscure songs," Browne said, "just to see if I can remember them."
He did make some exceptions. You could feel a collective rising of the spirit when "Somebody's Baby" bounced most of us back 30 years, and uprooted memories of beach parties and girls in cutoffs, and Browne acknowledged a special place in his heart for "The Pretender." An added benefit of the oldies was that he often explained the song's lineage.
In several cases, he referred to his son-who suggested to dad that some of his songs be adapted to rap - and made other references to family, reverberating with most of those in the crowd who had long given up girls in cutoffs for the wonders of family.
Like Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," one of Browne's newest cuts, "I Am a Patriot" from "World In Motion" expressed opinions far different from the ones drawn by only a casual listening. Claiming not to be neither a Democrat nor Republican, socialist or capitalist, Browne preferred to call himself simply free, which, he implied, was the purist form of patriotism.
While Browne performed alone it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say he was accompanied by the Coronado Theater, a grand old opera house originally built in 1927 but recently brought elegantly back to life.
As soon as you caught a glimpse of the Coronado's glittering marquee you left the gray blandness of downtown Rockford and into something more resembling our dream of what downtown Chicago was like during the days of John Dillinger. In its original heyday, the Coronado was known as "Rockford's Wonder Theater."
Once inside, spires and ornate balconies made you feel like you had entered a fairy tale land. And if your head glanced upward while musing a lyric, you would have noticed a ceiling full of blinking "stars."
While a lot of work obviously went into the theater's revitalization, "effortless" is the best word to describe Browne himself. His voice covered all the ground it once did with smooth, controlled, elegant tones.
Admittedly there were times when a little more music would have been preferable to what appeared to be Browne having a casual conversation with a few hundred people, but his charm and quiet grace were so engaging they were a pleasant-enough second choice to a few more tunes.
Coming through loud and clear was how he obviously enjoyed his craft. When he played the piano or guitar his fingers caressed the instrument with the precision of a surgeon and the confidence of a mystic.
Near the end, one of the ushers was seen looking at his watch, but Browne seemed barely aware that time was passing. He seemed more into just hanging out and acting as though the passage of time was just an illusion.
Friday night, it was.
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