On a weekend when western New York’s huddled masses were flocking to see the latest commercial cash grab known as “Avengers: Infinity War,” Jackson Browne made an appearance inside the Seneca Allegany Events Center that received little attention from local media. He and his road-tested band took the stage just after 8:00 p.m. to a rapturous standing ovation, but the question of how people even heard about the show lingered well after the set began. We’re alive at a time when people have access to more information than at any other period in human history yet the imbalance regarding what is chosen for promotion remains problematic.
For example, Marvel shelled out a record $150 Million promotional budget for a sequel that could have easily sold itself given how rabid the fanboy universe has become. Are the films entertaining? Sure, but it’s gotten to a point where, in many cases, marketing the product is more important than ensuring that said product offers anything beyond superhero sensory overload. Then again, Infinity War has surpassed $665 Million at the domestic box office as of 6/19, so I’m probably in the minority when I implore studios to give us something with a little more artistic soul.
But that’s where Jackson Browne comes in. The 14 studio albums he’s released since 1972 are dripping with enough soul, truth, and unflinching humanity that hearing them for the first time impacted me the same way reading an Iron Man comic book affected so many fans of the Marvel Universe. I was hooked instantly and couldn’t wait to see if the live experience either lived up to or exceeded the strength of the recorded material.
Seeing as how that night in Salamanca marked my fourth time covering a Jackson Browne show, I already knew that his stage performance transcended the records in every way. No two shows are ever the same and the organic nature of the evening promises the audience that what they’re witnessing can’t be duplicated in any other city. Unlike the way in which many Marvel pictures tend to repeat the same formula, Browne keeps things fresh by evolving with the times and challenging his listeners to contemplate whether or not the current state of the world is one in which they want their children living.
By opening with “Before the Deluge,” a song they often close with, Browne and Co. flipped the script that says an audience needs time to prepare for a composition as thematically heavy as “Deluge.” If anyone stopped off at the bar thinking that they wouldn’t miss anything major, they ended up missing a moment that set the tone for what the rest of the night would be.
“The Long Way Around,” “The Dreamer,” and a seething “Lives in the Balance” echoed that poignancy while positioning Browne as one of the few songwriters still willing to challenge the ongoing era of American complacency. Regardless of how “great” Donald Trump claims that America is, was, or will be again, Browne’s message is predicated on the notion that we as citizens of this country can always be doing better, which, to me, is something that people of any affiliation can get behind.
Radio favorites “Doctor My Eyes,” “Somebody’s Baby,” and “Running on Empty” soon followed, but it was a pair of songs subtly (or not) suggested by the crowd that left the strongest musical impression on the room. “For Everyman” and “Sky Blue and Black” created an ethereal space in which you could feel the entire band striving to elevate the medium. Val McCallum is arguably the finest lead guitarist Browne has played with since David Lindley and his understated soloing can take hold of a song when you least expect, so the extended breaks in “Empty” and “Everyman” were examples of what he can do when given an opportunity to let loose.
With the show seemingly finished after “Our Lady of the Well,” Browne returned to the stage to play something usually reserved for what he considers to be a special audience. Even I was shocked when he hit the opening piano chords to “The Load Out/Stay,” because that meant the three amazing shows I had seen prior to this one weren’t deemed worthy enough. The exclusivity factor makes its appearance in Salamanca even cooler when you consider that it’s only been played at 11 out of 48 shows in 2018.
I’ve heard from longtime fans since the show went down and they all said that any empty seats would have been filled had they found out about the appearance sooner. My two-and-half-year-old son loves The Incredible Hulk, but I guarantee that he’ll be afforded the opportunity to love “Late for the Sky” just as much.