Jackson Browne, long considered the epitome of Southern California romanticism, has responded to the current economic and musical climate by toughening up his sound. Playing a long list of past favorites and previewing songs from his forthcoming album, Browne relied on a chunkier guitar sound, looser arrangements and a pushier beat at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night.

This new sound brought out the stubborn realism that has always been in his songs but has never been so obvious before. On "Downtown," a new song that celebrates urban life at the expense of the suburbs, Browne's aggressive sextet of L.A. pros lit into a jaunty rocker, only to have Rick Vito's slide guitar and Craig Doerge's synthesizer hint at the struggle of city life.

Synthesizers darkly colored all the new songs, especially the heartbroken lament "Say It Isn't True." "For Everyman," an early anthem, built to a compelling climax atop Browne's heartfelt, melodic singing, Doerge's piano solo and Russ Kunkel's controlled drum roll.

"Running On Empty," the hit single Browne recorded live at Merriweather in 1977, had an added kick; Browne seemed to be running a bit faster, a bit more desperately.

Browne returns to Merriweather tonight.