Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jackson Browne Lands in Brooklyn

by Richard Wallace

I don’t know about you but in some meaningful way for me, Brooklyn came of age last month when Jackson Browne appeared at the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series on July 21 at the Prospect Park bandshell.

I mean for a long time BAM has produced a terrific concert series for years in a very well thought-out, multicultural, downtown/alternative post-mainstream kind of way and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit.  Supposedly Bob Dylan played at Prospect Park last summer but I missed that show and I still don’t believe it happened. But last night Brooklyn had Jackson Browne all to itself and for this particular 70’s throwback, the fair borough landed.

Perhaps I speak for a certain population segment, the one that lived in Manhattan until they realized that Brooklyn, certainly from Prospect Park in to Brooklyn Heights was a doable place-to-live option.   And then they realized that it might actually be a better option that came with getting married, having children, home ownership, real estate appreciation/depreciation, etc.  In other words, getting settled. And that was all good but there remained a lingering feeling at times (okay, almost every night) that you weren’t living in Manhattan anymore and maybe, just maybe you were missing something.  That was before the silver Time the Conquerer tour bus pulled up on Prospect Park West Tuesday afternoon.

I did not buy an advance ticket to Jackson’s show.  One of the greatest American songwriters, one whose legacy includes a brotherhood with a large group of top shelf musicians as well as one of the most loyal fanbases ever, was playing down the street.  I guess I wasn’t going to believe it until I heard the music itself.  And of course it rained on and off all day so I wasn’t sure that the show was going to take place at all. I didn’t walk to the park until 8 PM, arrived about half way through the first set and approached the bandshell cautiously.  It turned out to be true.

Jackson Browne and his band were filling the humid night with some of the best songs of a lifetime.  The music hung in the air like a lyric from Late For the Sky just waiting to be held before being absorbed. Surprised to see general admission tickets still available, I bought one and entered the bandshell arena.

The band played songs from Jackson’s newest release,  Time the Conquerer, as well as a selection of songs in chronological order from the albums Saturate Before Using, Late for the Sky, The Pretender and Running on Empty.  The seemingly ageless 61 year-old Browne ended the first set with Take it Easy off the For Everyman record, a song he co-wrote with Glen Frey of The Eagles.

Jackson himself seemed to share my amazement as he stood on stage, acknowledging the crowd’s applause after the song, shaking his head and repeating with some wonder, “Brooklyn.”  The audience reveled amid what had become a midsummer night classic and for me, Brooklyn itself was complete.

Advertisements

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and Burning Spear at Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn NY 7/30/09

A frequently spellbinding show by two spiritually-inclined artists who don’t overstate their case. Brooklyn gospel veteran Naomi Shelton and her backing vocal trio the Gospel Queens – a recent addition to the Daptone roster – were backed by a capable four-piece band, their keyboardist sitting inscrutable behind his wraparound shades Brother Ray style. With her contralto rasp, Shelton doesn’t implore or go into a frenzy: she lets the songs speak for themselves. Likewise, the Gospel Queens – two of whom were given a turn on lead vocals and didn’t disappoint – keep the harmonies going without any ostentation. Their eleven-song set mixed scurrying vamps, warm Sam Cooke-inspired sixties-style gospel/soul and finally a funk number punctuated fluidly and soulfully by the bassist. But their best songs were ominously bluesy and minor-key: their opener, an understatedly dark version of Wade in the Water and their closing tune, the hauntingly memorable anthem What Have You Done.

Between sets, Burning Spear casually walked from the wings and addressed the crowd. Nobody seemed to notice or pay any mind: it looked as if he was presenting his guitar player with a ticket to the Grammies (Spear is a perennial nominee). Then the two went backstage again. But when the band took the stage, with a brief number sung by the rhythm guitarist and then a brief instrumental medley of hits, the crowd reaction was 180 degrees the opposite. This was a young massive, about 90% West Indian from the looks of it – awfully nice to see the youth of today in touch with the man who when all is said and done will probably rank as the greatest reggae artist of alltime. Jah Spear rewarded them with a characteristically intense, hypnotic show: now in his sixties, in his fourth decade of playing and recording, his warm, unaffected voice, casually magnetic stage presence and socially aware songwriting remain as strong as ever. Probably the most popular Jamaican artist throughout the decade of the 70s (Marley’s audience back home never matched his fan base in Babylon), Burning Spear’s songs typically build on long, trance-inducing vamps, in concert frequently going on for ten or fifteen minutes at a clip. Because this show had an early curfew, the band didn’t stretch out quite as long as they can, but it didn’t matter considering how strong the set list was – Spear has a vast back catalog, but this one was rich with gems from throughout his career. He opened with the sly boast Me Gi Dem, as in “Me gi dem what they want, yes me do.” The swaying 70s classic Old Marcus Garvey got a Tyrone Downie-style clavinet solo and then an incongruous metal solo (thankfully the only one of the night until the very end) from the lead guitarist. Slavery Days, from the classic Marcus Garvey album became an audience singalong, mostly just bass and drums behind the impassioned vocals. Burning Spear can be very funny despite himself: this time out, he was already asking the crowd, “Do you want more original reggae music?” three songs into the set.

They finally went into dub territory a bit on a long version of Jah No Dead, followed by a characteristically mesmerizing version of Driver (i.e. Jah is my driver; Jah is my rider also!). They closed the set with a soulful version of the backcountry anthem Man in the Hills, a tersely delicious take of the catchy Nyah Keith (best track on the classic 1980 Social Living album) and the only even relatively new song of the night, Jah Is Real (title track to last year’s excellent cd) which never really got off the ground as a singalong. But the first of the encores did: the scathing anthem Columbus, inarguably the most resonant deflation of the “Columbus discovered America” myth had the whole arena raising their voices to dismiss the “damn blasted liar” who happened upon Jamaica several millennia after the Arawaks did. After that, the catchy 70s hit The Sun couldn’t be anything but anticlimactic, but they ended the show on a high note with African Postman, Burning Spear relating the contents of a telegram with the message that “Now is the time that I and I and I should go home, yes Jah!” And with that the mellow posse of merrymakers departed, Jah Spear encouraging everyone to “watch your back on the way out, and on the way in.” If you weren’t there, you missed a real good one. Considering how vital he still is, it looks like he’s going to be around for a long time; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments