In the span of roughly 20 hours in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, I saw two utterly divergent concerts. One was New York City’s Parquet Courts, an indie darling of 2013 touring in support of their first proper album, Light Up Gold. The other? The lite-rock singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, a legend from the California ’70s folk-rock scene with nearly five decades as a performer under his belt.
The only thing in common between the two? The fact that I had never seen either in my years exploring live music in Salt Lake City.
With rising indie-rock kids Parquet Courts taking the stage shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, and Jackson Browne taking the stage for a sold-out show at Red Butte Garden later that night at 8:30 p.m., I had the chance to compare the two experiences.
Here’s the breakdown:
With just a cassette-only release and the critically hailed Light Up Gold album to their credit, Parquet Courts (pictured above in all their red-lit glory) didn’t have a ton of songs to choose from for their first-ever visit to Salt Lake City. Thankfully, that did nothing to detract from the energetic blast of jagged guitars cut with insistent bass hooks that make Parquet Courts’ music a worthy addition to the dance-rock scene of their New York City home base.
The songs on Light Up Gold veer between noisy thrash and beautiful pop, and all of that came through at their Urban Lounge performance–and all of it at a high volume. Blazing through about 15 songs in just more than a half-hour, the quartet didn’t let the light crowd–maybe 50 people, tops–affect their performance in the least.
With the band’s songwriters and guitarists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown trading vocals, or joining together to harmonize along with bass player Sean Yeaton, Parquet Courts blazed through like the loping “Yr No Stoner,” the stuttering “Master of My Craft” and the hit-in-a-just-world “Borrowed Time” in short order. And if it’s at all possible, the pace actually picked up for the latter half of the show, even as the band’s sonic diversity came into greater focus. “Careers in Combat” was a torrid indictment of a twentysomething’s career options in the 2013 economy, delivered via a fevered 90 seconds at most. “N. Dakota” and “No Ideas” showcased the band’s more measured, sensitive side, while “Stoned and Starving,” saved for the second to last song, proved a clear standout among a show full of great performances.
Roughly 20 hours later I found myself in the plush environs of Utah’s best summertime concert venue, Red Butte Gardens, for Jackson Browne’s first Utah stop in recent memory. If there is a perfect venue for Browne’s oeuvre of gentle and occasionally politically tinged folk-rock, it would be the mountainside stage surrounded by trees and flowers.
I was at a disadvantage from the get-go in reviewing a Jackson Browne show, as my memories of him are stuck in the early ’80s MTV hits like “Lawyers in Love” and the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High set to his “Somebody’s Baby.” I know the man has been an influence on young folk-rock bands I enjoy, and I had a high school teacher who used his “Lives in the Balance” as a teaching tool in civics class. I also know that Browne co-wrote The Eagles “Take It Easy”–and that is NOT a selling point for this guy.
The show at Red Butte Garden Wednesday night, one of the first to sell out for its summer concert season, was pretty much what I expected–utterly professional, classy and straightforward. Unfortunately, those adjectives often add up to “uninspired” in my book, especially on the heels of the genuinely thrilling and occasionally sloppy Parquet Courts set I’d seen earlier Wednesday.
I was clearly in the minority at the venue in finding the whole thing relatively flaccid, as people occasionally jumped on their feet to dance to poppy oldies delivered between more stately songs that Jackson performed either seated behind a piano or strumming his guitar at center stage. From opener “Black and White” through songs like “The Pretender” and “These Days,” people responded to each selection respectfully.
The thing is, compared to other artists I would lump in with Browne’s brand of rock who have performed at Red Butte in recent years–Sheryl Crow and Crosby, Stills & Nash come to mind–this show lacked the energy and excitement to make it feel like a must-see event. It was a pleasant evening out, which I’m sure is enough to satisfy most of his fans. But it wasn’t even close to making this observer into a new one.