Don't Go There: Rules Of The Road Vol. 4

JacksonBrowne(31).JPGHold on hold out ... for the new stuff.

Another entry on our list of things artists should never, ever do on a concert stage.

6. Do not make a big deal about inserting new songs into a set list heavy on old, familiar fare. (And especially avoid asking permission to perform the new stuff.)

It's your concert. Own it. Who cares if a big chunk of the crowd is there to hear the big radio hits and old album-track standbys for the umpteenth time? This thought occurred to me last night during Jackson Browne's show at the Warner. Browne has a new album coming out next week - his first set of new songs in a half-dozen years - and so, of course, he wants to play the fresh material.

But he seemed almost apologetic about it, more or less asking the audience to indulge him.

And he kept mentioning it as more and more new material was played, possibly because there were a bunch of people in the audience calling - quite loudly - for "Running on Empty" and "The Pretender," but maybe because Browne did, in fact, feel genuinely guilty about loading the set list with so much new stuff. Or maybe because he was nervous, last night marking the opening of the tour and all.

Whatever the reason, Browne really shouldn't have made such a big deal about it. (He even mentioned at one point that he asked some of his musician friends about introducing new stuff into their set lists, about how they're better at it than he is, and about how James Taylor shared his own method, in which JT introduces new material by saying: "Here's a new song - but it's just like the old ones." Har har.)

Dude, you're a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. You can do whatever you want. Just play the new stuff without any real fanfare (and certainly without apologizing) and let the material speak for itself. It's what your pal Springsteen does, and it works just fine for him.

Exception: You're the Rolling Stones.

By J. Freedom du Lac |  September 16, 2008; 9:05 AM ET Lists , Live Last Night , Rules Of The Road , Set Lists
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You're an idiot, and obviously this was your first JB show. He talks to the crowd more than most idiot worthless "rock stars". He LOVES the crowd and feels very connected. A lot of his shows are audience based. He'll play what people shout. Last night, he wanted to play his new stuff and was informing the guests that this was a different type of show. Learn the artist before you write about them.

"Time The Conqueror" seems to be an EXCELLENT album.

You should go back to reviewing worthless rock-star wannabe's of the '00's who couldn't write a decent song if it fell from the sky.

Posted by: A fan | September 16, 2008 11:15 AM

And a corollary for concert goers - don't freak out when the artist plays new stuff. Maybe you're not there for it, but that's why they're touring.

Also, if it's a classic artist and you just dropped over $100 for your tickets, why not pony up the extra $15 and buy the new disc so you know the tunes instead of standing there with your arms crossed yelling for the hits? You'll hear the hits eventually, and it's a lot easier to enjoy a show when you know all the songs.

Posted by: Hemisphire | September 16, 2008 11:17 AM

To Hemishpere (a RUSH homage?)

I agree with you, however, in this case JB's new album has not yet been released (due out 9/23). For most of us, last night was the first time hearing the new songs (which I thought were great!)

But..yes...the new songs should be heard prior to the show for the ultimate experience.

OH..and one more thing to J.F. du Lac...The Rolling Stones suck! Sure, they might be the most popular band on the planet, but they're also the best garage band on the planet (that's a dig if you don't understand). Mick has never had a good voice...Keith is by far NOT the best guitarist ever..and Charley Watts is terrible on the drums. I've heard covers better.

Off my soap box, now. Long live rock!

Posted by: A fan | September 16, 2008 11:37 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful discourse. Always a pleasure.

Posted by: J. Freedom | September 16, 2008 11:48 AM

To Hemisphere:
Amen - nothing ticks me off more than fans who come ONLY to hear the old stuff. You want to hear only the hits, stay home and pop in a greatest-hits disc. You might not like the new stuff, or find it interesting, but the artist does.

Posted by: EJ | September 16, 2008 1:30 PM

I don't think you're in any way an idiot, and I think you have a point. It did seem like he was almost apologizing for playing the new stuff, even though he certainly didn't need to.

I do think that in bantering good-naturedly about it, he was at least in part trying to tell people not to yell "The Load-Out'' at him. The show had a set list, he told them; he wasn't taking requests.

But, to understate it, he's also an introspective guy and he's obviously given some thought to this old song-new song thing. He clearly has a sense of humor about it, though. If last night didn't prove it, you should see The Simpsons episode that he guests on (when Simpsons cast characters groan after he says he's going to play some new songs and he responds "Just kidding.")

Last night, he wasn't kidding. And I'm glad.

Posted by: chris | September 16, 2008 1:48 PM

First off, "a fan", dude, Prozac. Think about it.

Sounds like Jackson was a bit unsure of himself since he hasn't been on the road for a few touring cycles of time. At least he's actually playing the music himself/with the band.

Posted by: EricS | September 17, 2008 10:07 AM

I'm with Freedom on this: Own it! If you're going to apologize for playing your new stuff, you forfeit the right to refer to yourself as an artist, I think. Based on JFdL's review (I wasn't at the show), I'd give Browne a pass for apologizing once on account of the album not having been released yet. It sounds like he was apologizing repeatedly, though, which is just weak.

But bellowing out song requests is almost always obnoxious. Sure, there are obvious exceptions -- like when the performer asks, "So what do you guys want to hear?" But few artists work that way, and no artist worth paying attention to works that way all the time, and the idea that Browne or whomever just walked out there without having made up a setlist that expresses whatever it is they want to express is kind of insulting.

More irritating still is when the request-shouters call for obvious warhorses -- like "Running on Empty" or "The Pretender" -- that everybody knows with 90 percent certainty they're going to hear anyway! If you're only interested in the half-dozen or so most familiar tunes in the artist's catalogue, why bother attending a concert? Make a playlist, save yourself an evening and $150 or so, and spare the members of the audience who actually know how to show their appreciation in a respectful way the headache of having to deal with you all night.

A lot of this depends on what kind of an artist you're dealing with. When U2 or Bruce Springsteen tour a new album, they typically play half to three-quarters of the new material at least for the first leg or first couple of months. Radiohead are playing In Rainbows in its entirety and then some, including bonus tracks and whatnot. R.E.M. are playing most of their new album this year, but then again, the album is less than 35 minutes long, leaving plenty of room in the set for crowd-pleasers and rarities alike. With an act like Tom Petty or the Rolling Stones, you'll hear maybe two or three of the new songs, tops. But when Aimee Mann played the Birchmere last February to preview songs from Smilers several months (not one week) before the album was on sale, she introduced the new songs, but didn't apologize for them. Huge difference! She believed in the material, and she sold it. (Of course, the rest of the set was made up of audience requests, but these were made via pass-the-hat rather than by shouting them at the stage.)

I also believe a lot of artists are more willing to risk playing a preponderance of new stuff in a smallish venue (like the Birch) then they are in a large one. The Warner would be about mid-size, I guess.

Posted by: Chris Klimek | September 17, 2008 11:01 AM

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