REVIEW / On a full tank: Jackson Browne is alive. And he spent three hours at the Albert Hall proving it. Jasper Rees was there. Plus Crowded House

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The Independent Online
By the end of his third triumphant night at the Royal Albert Hall, preceded by shows in Glasgow, Manchester and York, Jackson Browne still seemed genuinely surprised by the warmth of his reception. Bar a lone gig at the Cambridge Theatre in London last year, he hadn't toured these parts in eight years. With each appearance he has found himself having to stick around for longer and longer in order to satisfy requests. On Tuesday, he showed up at 8.15 and, including an interval, didn't leave until three hours later. To those in danger of missing the last Tube he offered a lift on the tour bus. Generous to a fault.

He had just finished the second song, the cathartically boppy title track from his most recent album I'm Alive, when the first request was hurled towards the stage. Pencil and pad to hand, 'Late for the Sky' was duly noted down, and it turned up six songs later. As the applause dimmed and the audience waited to see how he could possibly top that, the reverent hush was broken by a scream: 'That was fantastic]' You had to second that emotion.

Among several from the same early-1970s vintage came a blissfully harmonised 'Take It Easy', written with the Eagle Glenn Frey, which is the closest Browne ever got to sounding comfortable inside the free-living Californian myth. Nearer in spirit to the headscratching activist we got to know on his breakthrough album The Pretender (during the recording of which his first wife committed suicide) were 'These Days' and 'For A Dancer', both hauntingly delivered back to back and from the grand piano.

By this advanced stage of the show every song was being applauded at both ends - the modern ones as much as the ones that 20 years ago introduced this audience to the sound of emotional pain. I'm Alive, which airs with many of the private thoughts prompted by Browne's split from Darryl Hannah, finds him back on the same turf in his mid-40s. 'Too Many Angels', 'Sky Blue and Black' and 'Two Of Me, Two Of You' captured the ambivalence of a relationship in helpless freefall - so sad, and yet so sweetly sung.

Whoever once described Browne as 'chilled white whine' was clearly referring to the words rather than the voice that sounds as fresh and fit as its owner still looks in untucked white shirt and black jeans. The only sign Browne gives that he is not enjoying himself as much as his audience is when he howls out one of those plaintive sustained 'Woooaaahh's much beloved of singer-songwriters of a certain age. The device kills two birds with one stone, letting all the emotion hang out and plugging a hole in the lyrics.

From the same album came 'Everywhere I Go', a reggaefied confection that UB40 will doubtless get round to one day, which offered some brilliant ensemble playing from Browne's seven- strong band. From 'World in Motion' onwards they might as well have been in the studio. Luis Conte's percussion might for some tastes have been overexposed, but the overall sound was one of precise lushness. The single imprecision was in Browne's memory, and then only once. Fulfilling one request he forgot the words to the second verse and called a halt: 'I'm a little bit like a vacuum cleaner salesman: if you stop me in the middle I've got to go back to the beginning.' Having supped on 'The Pretender', 'Running on Empty', 'That Girl Could Sing' and sundry other nourishments, his audience would have happily stopped him in his 27th and final song, and rewound to 8.15.

(Photograph omitted)

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