JACKSON BROWNE topped the bill at the Aquarius Theatre Friday night, but Bonnie Raitt got there first and stole the show.
The crowds turned out to welcome Bonnie back to Boston, and her loyal partisans filled the opulent old Aquarius. Gleefully displaying her purple knee-length crushed velvet boots, Bonnie came out backed by some excellent saxophone work by John Payne, who appeared last week at Passim’s. By the time she was up and doing “You’ve Been In Love Too Long,” an old Martha and the Vandellas song (“this is my James Brown imitation”), the burly, long-haired security guards were having their troubles clearing the aisles.
A little drunk, and very glad to be in Boston, Bonnie sang with clarity and power, although it wouldn’t have taken much to please the thoroughly stoned crowd. Some of her admirers rushed the stage to present her with kisses, a rose, and an empty Schlitz bottle. Testing the range of her voice, she mixed ballads like “Love Has No Pride” and Browne’s “Under the Falling Sky” with boogie tunes like “You’ve Got to Know How” and “Love Me Like A Man,” building to two encores.
If Bonnie Raitt is earthy, then Jackson Browne is slick. He is tall and lean, his hair falls perfectly parted, he sports just a taste of hillbilly in his voice. Friday night Browne did a 40-minute set of his own songs. Plagued by technical difficulties–the worst of them an amp which turned his acoustic guitar into a tinny electric–and uneasy over his place on the bill, Browne seemed uncomfortable on stage and unsatisfied with his band’s performance.
He apologized to the crowd midway through the set. “Billing is one of those things that is decided in Hollywood,” he admitted. “I’d rather follow the atom bomb than Bonnie Raitt.”
Although small groups of Bonnie’s partisans left after each of Browne’s songs, his band played well, and he was brought back for two encores. But the careful orchestration of his hits like “Jamaica”–which was done beautifully–couldn’t compete with Bonnie’s performance.
Browne is one of the most accomplished young songwriters in the country, but his arrangements are too sweet and self-contained to generate enough excitement to follow a boogie band. Only on one or two of his numbers, like “Rock Me On the Water” did his band generate much more than polite applause.
The people who did the billing for Friday night made a classic mistake. They could have done everyone a favor by simply turning the tickets upside down.