Jackson Browne and Sara Watkins are set to hit the road together this summer, for a month-long acoustic tour that kicks off July 14th in Charlotte, North Carolina and includes a headlining stop at the Newport Folk Festival. On Thursday night in Los Angeles, the veteran rocker and the young folkie provided a preview of that trek in the first of two shows at Largo, where they spent nearly four hours rummaging through their deep catalogs with help from an expansive cast of high-profile pals, including Watkins’ brother Sean, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassists Rob Wasserman and Tal Wilkenfeld, singer Z Berg, guitarist Blake Mills, everyone in Dawes and two members of Leonard Cohen’s live band.
As he took the stage, Browne dedicated the evening to the late Levon Helm, and there was indeed something of Helm’s so-called Midnight Ramble in the air – never moreso than during a free-wheeling, 15-person rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”
Other highlights: a new Browne song, “Standing in the Breach,” which he said had been inspired by the earthquake in Haiti in 2010; a gorgeous version of Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” which Browne called “probably one of the best songs ever written”; Sara Watkins’ “You and Me,” from her just-released Sun Midnight Sun; and a pair of mysterious roots-noir numbers about family and religion by Mills, who threatened to steal last night’s show with his killer slide-guitar contributions to Browne’s “These Days” and “You Know the Night,” the latter from last year’s Woody Guthrie tribute, Note of Hope.
There were quieter moments, too, such as Browne’s “Here,” which he said he’d written for his son Ethan (who was in the house), and “Live Nude Cabaret,” a “sexual carol” (as Browne referred to it) from his most recent studio disc, 2008’s Time the Conqueror. But mostly the show was about preserving the kind of high-spirited jam Browne said used to happen all the time in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon. “This is like my own personal brand of greed,” he joked at one point, referring to his collection of cameos. Nobody in the capacity crowd seemed to mind.