Jackson Browne does his thing @ Meadowbrook

Picture 2For a guy who named his latest album “Time the Conqueror,” Jackson Browne has held up well.   Of course, the grey beard he sported on that record’s cover is shaved, and the white highlights of his straight pageboy haircut re-colored.  So perhaps time has conquered the California man-child, but as Browne played on a warm night to a near-sold out house at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion, he looked limber and sounded sharp.

After several years of touring alone in support of “Solo Acoustic Volumes 1 & 2” greatest hits collections, Browne’s out with a band this time, and a hard rocking attitude.  There was nary a wooden guitar in sight. Though his two-hour set relied on a lot of material from the latter part of his career, the crowd didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, the biggest ovation of the night came at the end of “About My Imagination” from the 2001 release, “The Naked Ride Home,” which showcased Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills, two young vocalists Browne found in a South Los Angeles prep school.

Other highlights included “Lives In the Balance,” reworked with a new verse (sung by Morris), “The Pretender,” the rarely heard “Late Show” (an underappreciated gem from “Late for the Sky”), a spare “Jamaica Say You Will” and the encore, Browne’s cover of Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot.”

It’s likely that many in attendance were unfamiliar with “I’ll Do Anything” and some of the other obscure nuggets Browne chose, not to mention the four songs he played from “Time The Conqueror” – a good record that, unfortunately, can only be heard on a few satellite radio stations.

The encore incorporated an Isley Brothers’ funk classic into the middle portion, which turned out to be a perfect representation of Browne’s apparent mood.  ‘It’s your thing/do what you wanna do,” he sang, and did just that.  He gently complained mid-set that the set list he chose never seemed to please everyone. So he chose to please himself.  Fortunately, the audience was with him for most of the ride.

Local Rhythms – Greenerpalooza gets Browne

Picture 23Most people look at the roofline of Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion and see the Lakes Region’s premier live music venue. Chris Lockwood envisions a green energy future.

Its slope and location are perfect for photovoltaic panels. “We have the potential to be New Hampshire’s largest producer of solar power,” says Lockwood, the venue’s Marketing Director.

Chris is a passionate advocate for the Meadowbrook’s environmental initiatives.  “When I came here out of college, the first thing I thought was ‘we have to make this place green,” he said.

To that end, he’s been a driving force behind the “Greenerpalooza” showcase. The second annual event, co-sponsored by Ocean Bank, PSNH and the NH Business Resource Center, happens Thursday, July 16 in conjunction with Jackson Browne’s appearance there.

Fans can wander around an “eco-village” in the Meadowbrook midway and visit 25 vendors from around the state.  Many environmentally responsible products and services will be on display, including alternative energy, smart home design, electric cars and earth-friendly cosmetics.

“Greenerpalooza” is the public relations part of the venue’s ongoing commitment “to have the least amount of negative impact on our environment.”

Meadowbrook’s tangible steps to reduce its carbon footprint are impressive.  They include increased recycling, use of products made with recycled materials and on-site bio-diesel, used for on-stage production and tour bus refueling.

At last year’s event, the headliner lent their name – but not much more, This time around, Jackson Browne is “really into” the effort, says Lockwood.

The singer-songwriter’s commitment to alternative energy and the environment is well known.  Browne founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) with Bonnie Raitt, John Hall and Graham Nash, and once was arrested for chaining himself to the entrance of a nuclear power plant (Diablo Canyon, in 1981).

These days, Browne drives a hybrid car, and lives “off the grid” on a Southern California ranch with a wind turbine, solar electricity and other energy-saving gadgetry.  In 2007, the home was the subject of Green Planet’s “Living With Ed” documentary show.

Browne welcomed Meadowbrook’s offer to tap into their bio-diesel generator to power his sound.  He’ll also employ an energy-efficient LED lighting system for his show.

Lockwood also hopes the rocker will urge his audience to check out the Greenerpalooza showcase, and learn how to take earth-friendly steps in their own lives.

Around the time Jackson Browne was starting MUSE, I worked on a solar energy awareness project called “Sun Day,” dreaming of a rock show powered by alternative energy.

It’s certainly a pleasure to see that dream become a reality – right in my own backyard.

Speaking of which, here are some other local entertainment options, at a few of my favorite places:

Wednesday: Second Wind, Green Acres – A wine tasting at a this Claremont store that’s been through a few changes since its opening.  There are more places to sit, a bigger selection of bottles of the shelf and great prepared food.   Their barista makes the best latte in town.  Add to that the talented duo of Terry Gould and Suzy Hastings, better known as Second Wind, and you have the makings for a lovely evening.

Thursday:  Pete Merrigan, Bistro Nouveau – I met my bride-to-be at a Newport Opera House performance by Merrigan’s Mad Beach Band. 28 years later, I can say that turned out OK.  So it’s good to know Pete and the band are planning a reunion show at the same venue on August 31.  Meanwhile, Pete’s solo appearances are always a treat, and since he moved back from Florida, something you can do year-round.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – One of the area’s finest jazz combos returns to downtown Claremont.  Rosen has a delicate touch on the guitar, reminiscent of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Pat Metheny.  He personifies “smooth,” S&Z’s Brown Block location never ceases to amaze me.  It’s roomy yet intimate, and the new, expanded bar is always buzzing with activity.

Saturday: Green River Festival (Greenfield, MA) – If you can only make one music festival this summer, this is a good choice – particularly considering the first day (Friday, 5 PM start) features performances from every artist on the coolest indie label anywhere, Signature Sounds.  Winterpills, Rani Arbo, Eilen Jewell and Richard Shindell all stop by, and on Saturday, Michael Franti, Kathleen Edwards and 10 others perform, including Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes.

Sunday: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – This downtown Hanover restaurant has great food, an inventive beer list and interesting drinks.  But none of that matters to me as much as Canoe Cub’s commitment to live music, 363 days a year.  Nights like this one with Celia are particularly special – he’s a dead ringer for the Chairman of the Board, and a lot of fun to boot.

Monday: Freshlyground, Iron Horse – From Capetown, South Africa to Northampton, Massachusetts, this band’s musical palette suggests “Graceland” era Paul Simon wed to Macy Gray’s soulfulness.  Quirky stuff – on “Pot Belly” (streaming on their MySpace page), lead singer Zolani Mahola croons, “you got fat thighs, flabby arms, but your pot belly still gives good loving.”

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – An Upper Valley treasure that’s gone in 5 years from treat to institution to (dare I say it?) franchise.  Look for a third Salt hill opening in Hanover right around Homecoming in October. Just like the Newport and Lebanon locations, there will be music.  About tonight: if you haven’t stopped in after work (or looking for work – times are hard) to check out this circle of scintillating sound, you’re really missing out.

Jackson Browne – “Time The Conqueror”

Wearing sunglasses and sporting a grey beard, Jackson Browne stares out like a soft rock Unabomber from the cover of his new album, “Time The Conqueror.”  The name perhaps refers to the toll on his mind and body over 60 years.

“Time may heal all wounds, but time will steal you blind,” Browne sings on the title track leading off his 13th album of new material, the first since 2002’s “Naked Ride Home.”

But given the often too-literal content of “Time the Conqueror,” and his penchant for double meaning, it could also mean that age has compelled Browne to vanquish all urges to conceal his strong opinions, or for that matter, adorn them in any way.

“I’m gonna go down singing,” Browne intones on “Giving That Heaven Away,” as he grouses that it’s become his job “to show the whole world how to rebel.”

“Seems like the whole world’s at a fire sale,” he muses – and that’s during one of the happier songs on the record.

Browne is no stranger to mixing politics and music, but “Lives In The Balance” and “World in Motion,” his two most pointed albums prior to “Time the Conqueror,” were at least a little poetic, and punctuated with a few love songs.

This time around, he’s seething – and naming names.

On “The Drums of War,” he sounds more like a talk show guest than a songwriter.  “Where are the courts now when we need them?” sings Browne.  “Why is impeachment not on the table? We better stop them while we are able.”

“Where Were You,” a 10 minute indictment of the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, and how it reflects on America’s national character, might be the angriest song anyone’s written since Neil Young rush-released “Living With War.”

The song, a percolating blues number tweaked with synthesizers and sampling, lays out the charges in a way that recalls Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre”:

“Where were you in the social order?
The Lower Nine or a hotel in the Quarter
Which side of the border between rich and poor?”

It’s all there – the horror in the Superdome, failed attempts to move from the convention center to higher ground, “the newborn and the elderly exposed to even more misery” and National Guard soldiers arriving five days late.

“Mainly they were used to keep the looting down,” laments Browne.

The song works, however, because it’s more than just a list of accusations.  After a snarling reminder of President’s Bush fly-by photo op (“shaved face, rested eyes, looking down he circles twice/on his way home from his vacation”), Browne turns the camera around.

“Where were you,” he sings, “when you got the picture?”

His rage never quite ebbs, even during the easygoing, mojito and gardenia soaked “Going Down To Cuba.”  He trips from visions of walking on a beach, “in one hand a Montecristo/in the other an ice cream cone,” to discussing the embargo, and reminding listeners that, whatever their faults, Cubans “do know what to do in a hurricane.”

It’s hard to believe that the same person who wrote “Late For the Sky” would include a line like “they make such continuous use of the verb ‘to resolve’” in a song, but there it is.

The record has a few nostalgic moments, including “Off Of Wonderland,” which name checks RFK and Martin Luther King, and recalls Browne’s days living in Laurel Canyon “with an unknown band” (presumably the Eagles), his ideals still intact.  “Giving That Heaven Away” finds him “still looking around for that Sixties sound,” even though he knows “those days are gone.”

“Just Say Yeah” is a more typical Jackson Browne love song, with lines like “it’s hard to tell where the relating leaves off and where love begins,” but it’s a small oasis in an otherwise hard and strident effort.

Though it will no doubt speak well to fellow travelers, it’s doubtful that “Time The Conqueror” will win Jackson Browne many new fans.

Maybe time conquered his need for those as well.

“Sneaky” Pete Kleinow RIP

pete_kleinow.jpgSteel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow died January 6 in Petaluma, California of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. A founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Kleinow held a legitimate claim as one of the creators of the genre known as “country rock”.

Along with future Byrd Clarence White, who in 1963 was growing bored with the bluegrass music he performed with the Kentucky Colonels, Kleinow experimented in the pre-Laurel Canyon L.A. club scene with a new kind of music. In “Hotel California,” Barney Hoskyn’s seminal biography of the Southern California music scene, Sneaky Pete had this to say:

We were fooling around there with country rock, but we didn’t know what to call it … there wasn’t a label for it at the time.

Later, the Byrds formed, Dylan went electric and released “John Wesley Harding,” Don Henley and Glenn Frey moved to Los Angeles, and everything changed. But Kleinow was an early trailblazer for musicians looking to revolutionize country in the way the Beatles shook up rock.

Were it not for the troubled psyche of Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers might have been a legendary band, rather than a touchstone for rock historians trying to pinpoint where it all began.

Parsons died in 1973 of a heroin overdose; drugs were always a factor in the Burritos’ music. Kleinow told Hoskyns that there wasn’t a Burritos show that didn’t embarass him. That had a lot to do with their inability to break through commercially.

Sneaky Pete, however, kept the flame alive after Parsons’ passing, touring with various versions of the Flying Burrito Brothers. He released two albums with “Burrito Deluxe,” which formed in 2000 and included the Band’s Garth Hudson and ex-Amazing Rhythm Ace Jeff “Stick” Davis.

He mostly worked as a studio musician, contributing to a wide array of efforts. Frank Zappa, the Bee Gees, John Lennon and the pre-Stevie Nicks incarnation of Fleetwood Mac all relied on Kleinow’s signature sound.

On Jackson Browne’s second album, “For Everyman,” Sneaky Pete’s elegiac, soaring bridge between “Take It Easy” and “Our Lady of the Well” was particularly mesmerizing. I was 16 when the album came out. It was as if I’d never heard the steel guitar until that moment; it opened my eyes to country music, a genre I’d always associated with bigots and simpletons.

“Sneaky” Pete Kleinow died at age 72, after spending a lifetime married to Ernestine Kleinow; they married when the guitarist was 18. They had five children.

Fittingly, a memorial service is planned in Joshua Tree National Park later this month.

The final Burrito Deluxe album, which Kleinow ceased working on in 2005 when he was diagnosed with Alzeimer’s, will be released February 27. It is tentatively titled “Disciples of Truth.”

Another YouTube Treasure – Springsteen/Browne “Promised Land”

To quote Lefsetz, YouTube is the new Napster, full to bursting with rare and wonderful music. I could care less about LonelyGirl vanity projects and Mentos experiments (well, those are kinda cool actually), but gimme all the grainy Midnight Special videos you can dish out.

YouTube’s essence is stuff like this gem, a (what looks to be) audience-taped performance of Bruce Springsteen performining “Promised Land” in 1981 at the Hollywood Bowl, with a t-shirted Jackson Browne singing harmony and strumming backup guitar. Look for the boom mike crowding the shot about two-thirds of the way through.

The audio is surprisingly good. I swear to God, I never knew the chorus begins “the dogs on Main Street howl ’cause they understand, if I could take one moment into my hands.” Like most unplugged versions, particularly ones that haven’t been bludgeoned to death by classic rock radio (the song was about three years old at the time of this performance), it reveals key elements often buried by studio technology. That’s why “Thunder Road,” from the “Live 1975-1985” box set (the acoustic version that opens the first disk) is my all-time favorite Springsteen track. The raw, naked conviction when he moans “Well, I bought this guitar and I learned how to make it talk” put me closer to the moment when those words entered his brain then I’ll ever be.

The soul that makes such timeless tracks – that’s rock and roll.