Tim Robbins nonchalantly sauntered on stage at the Actor’s Gang Theatre last Saturday night and welcomed the packed house as if he were inviting them into his living room.
The crowd loved it and responded as if they were dear friends at a guitar pull in Nashville. Tim started several songs over, laughing at his mistakes and endearing himself even more to the audience. He did three songs solo and then was joined by his son, Miles, his brother, guitarist David Robbins, accordion player Chris Schultz and Lili Haydn on violin.
Robbins, who arranged the current WTF Festival which is benefiting The Actors’ Gang and its projects, was having a great time and it was infectious.
Though most people think of him as an actor, writer and director (and partner of the beautiful and talented Susan Sarandon), he comes from a musical family. His father, Gil Robbins, was a member of the folk group, The Highwaymen, whose big hit was Michael , Row theBoat Ashore in the 60s.
Tim and Miles performed the song at Pete Seeger’s televised 90th Birthday Celebration. His heartfelt song, “The Book of Josie” deals with the Gospel of Mary from the Gnostic Gospels. Another song recounts an encounter with a woman, Elizabeth Doren, whose mother died when she was a child. When Elizabeth was asked what she remembered of her mother, she spoke of light and the sun, which became the song, “In the Sun” with the beautiful line “the light in your baby’s eyes.
Miles Robbins then took the stage for a solo set and showed tremendous poise and maturity for a 17-year-old. His self-penned songs were deceptively simple with lyrics like “We trip in uncomfortable shoes which he flips in another line to “I trip in my comfortable head”. He works words like ambivalent and preference easily into his melodies.
At his young age he is a wordsmith and excellent guitarist. He has his own band, The Tangents, with whom he has played some gigs in New York clubs. His set was really well-received by the audience, and his father’s pride was obvious.
Jackson Browne, a member of both the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame and Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, greeted the crowd with the proclamation, “The Actor’s Gang Theatre is the hippest new venue in Los Angeles,” to cheers and applause. His set included favorites such as ”One of These Days”, “Giving That Heaven Away” and one of his big hits, “The Pretender”.
He played a new song, inspired by a handwritten sign,” Live Nude Cabaret”. He started a few songs over due to wrong choice of guitar among the array onstage and not being able to read the music without his glasses. Not to be deprived of a song, a member of the audience offered Jackson her glasses. He graciously thanked her but found his own.
His song about his visit to Cuba was insightful. He did not do such big hits as “Somebody’s Baby “ or “Running on Empty” but elected for an acoustic set of thoughtful, penetrating songs.
Jackson then introduced his son, Ryan Browne and Ryan’s duet partner, Tanya Harbor, who wowed everyone with their beautiful harmonies. They did a cover of the Beach Boys “Surfer Girl” with soaring vocals. Then Jackson returned to the stage and joined Ryan making history as it was the first time that the father and son performed together.
Not only has Ryan inherited his father’s good looks but also his vocal and musical abilities. It was an intimate set, not the kind that he would play in a big stadium, and he told personal stories.
Jackson reminisced about their recent road trip to Northern California and Nevada for a reunion of musicians with whom he played in the early days but declared the best part of the trip was being with Ryan.
The other performers returned to the stage to join in a medley that included a Leonard Cohen composition, two Warren Zevon songs including the ironic “Life Will Kill You,” a rousing Pete Seeger number and the Eagles’ hit “Take It Easy” penned by Browne. The violinist, Lili Haydn was a wonder, constantly drawing applause and cheers.
The audience laughed, clapped, hooted and sang along. It was like being in a Pentecostal church in the South.
It was touching to see Tim and Jackson display their pride in their sons. The mood of the entire evening was casual, comfortable and relaxed.
The audience felt emotionally closer to the entertainers in such an intimate setting. A woman seated next to me had driven from Pasadena and declared that now that she had found her way, she would be back. The man sitting on the other side of me at the end of the show commented, “Imagine, all of this in Culver City.”