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Jackson Browne
Live at the Paramount
New York City
February 18, 1994

By John McAlley

"I played here once—about 73 years ago," deadpanned Jackson Browne from the stage of the Paramount, a glittering showplace built on the bones of New York City's old Felt Forum, where he'd opened for the Eagles in the '70s. Browne's evocation of his early days seemed at once nostalgic and apropos. I'm Alive, his critically acclaimed new album, marks a long-awaited return to the searching, intensely introspective music of his '70s masterworks Late for the Sky and The Pretender.

I'm Alive documents with poignancy and candor the emotional fallout from the singer/songwriter's breakup with actress Daryl Hannah. And in touring behind the LP, Browne has place a similar vulnerability center stage. "Here's something from the deep past and deep in the present," he said plaintively when introducing "In the Shape of a Heart." Intertwined with almost the entirety of I'm Alive were some of his most deeply felt and apocalyptic classics: "Doctor My Eyes," "For Everyman," "Late for the Sky," "Before the Deluge," "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate," and "The Pretender" among them.

For Browne, this sudden rebirth as a professional autobiographer and heartbroken troubadour must be the source of some skepticism and bewilderment. Certainly this night his ambivalence was evident in a performance that was uncharacteristically remote. Browne and his seven-member band (including veteran back-up singer Valerie Carter) — who'd brought raw emotion and fiery conviction to the same material only months before at Broadway's Nederlander Theater—advanced workmanlike through much of a two-hour-and- 20-minute set. Remarkably, off a set list amply stocked with solitary ballads, the singer/songwriter did not risk the intimacy of a single solo performance. A rowdy sold-out crowd only added to the artist's conundrum: Given the set's heart-rending agenda, Browne looked genuinely vexed by the incessant whooping and hollering. Still, the evening was not without its triumphs and comic relief. In the first of the encores, Browned reached back to 1973 for "These Days," a song whose majestically simple portrait of regret and rebirth in the wake of lost love seemed particularly resonant on this evening. Indeed, to allay any doubts the might have left that healing was underway and that Browne's spirit and humor were intact, he punctuated the song's trademark couplet, "Well, I had a lover/It's so hard to risk another," with an emphatic and cathartic addendum: "Not true—really."