“How do you know?” shouted a fan at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse Theatre on Monday night as Jackson Browne swapped out one of the baker’s dozen acoustic guitars on stage for another. Browne was making the switch to accommodate a song request that someone else had shouted from the audience, and the questioning fan just wanted to know how he could tell so quickly which axe went with which song.
Well, Browne explained a bit mystically, “There are songs in the guitars.” Each one has a different sounds, a different feel, he said. The array allowed him to have a selection of different tunings at hand. And while he could retune on the fly and make a go of it with just a couple guitars, he admitted that he’s guilty of a materialistic pride of possession over his collection (there are many more at home) and wanted to “bring enough out that I win.”
He displayed the one he was holding and then grabbed another one that was almost identical, the latter having originally been bought as a present for his goddaughter -- purchased at 11 a.m. one morning, he said, but by 3 that afternoon a treasured friend with which he couldn’t part. (He did get her another one, he quickly assured us.)
It was all part of a very intimate, generous night at the cozy beachside theater. The show was a little side-trip of Browne’s current solo “evening with” tour to benefit the Guacamole Fund, the Southern California-based progressive organization with which he’s been associated since the mid-‘70s in his support of a variety of social and environmental causes. He and his guitars (and one lonely electric keyboard) made the most of the setting.
He had no setlist and took a lot of requests, or rejected them (of “The Load Out” he said, “I could play that, but then we’d have to leave,” and of the inevitable shout of “Free Bird” he quipped that no one really wants to hear him play it). He told insightful and/or amusing anecdotes about some of the songs’ geneses (he first encountered the young woman who in part inspired 1971‘s “Jamaica Say You Will” when he walked into a friend’s Laurel Canyon house and found her upside down and naked in a yoga pose).
He reminisced about his dad packing him and his siblings into the station wagon and heading down around there to go to the old Insomniac cafe, though dad hung out a the higher-proof Lighthouse. And he gave shoutouts to various other SoCal locales, such as “York and Fig,” the major intersection near his Highland Park childhood home, as he intersected, 1986‘s “Lawless Avenues” and the his 1977 classic “The Pretender,” both tied to that neighborhood.
The most, um, intimate moment, though, came when he was introducing the 2008 reminiscence “Giving That Heaven Away,” saying it was inspired by a young lady he spent a day with long ago at a rock festival, and never saw again.
“That was me!” came a female squeal from the audience, bringing laughs from the crowd and blushes from the performer.
Yes, Browne said, with a sheepish grin, that was possible.
Here's a clip of Browne last May at a Thousand Oaks show along the same lines: