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Concert Review / Tour 2018

It was a Junior Walker song, (I’m a) Road Runner, that did it, that untethered James Taylor from his six-string and barstool.

He grabbed a harmonica, kicked up a heel or two, shook and wiggled and hopped on one foot, and probably would have danced even more had the cord to his mic not tugged him back to position.

Taylor turned 70 in March, but the way he played at times Saturday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, he might as well not have aged a day in 20 years.

Twenty-four hours after and before home Lightning playoff games at Amalie, more than 9,000 fans bore witness to a J.T. revitalized, or at least not quite willing to cede his entire sandalwood soul to Father Time. Heck, during most of his 20-minute intermission, Taylor meandered down to the crowd to sign autographs and snap photos with fans. Who does that?

It makes you wonder: Would we have gotten a show like this out of Taylor if Bonnie Raitt hadn’t canceled?

Raitt was scheduled to open this run of shows on Taylor’s tour, but canceled recently due to a medical issue that required immediate surgery. Taylor assured fans that the 68-year-old Raitt was recovering nicely, and even had them record a get-well-soon message to encourage her to get back on the road.

“She made it through a tight squeeze there, some dire straits, and the news is very good,” he said. “It seems like everything is on the up and up. The news is good. The news is great.”

Raitt’s presence was missed; her rasp and attitude would’ve provided a nice counter-balance to Taylor’s steel-cut oatmeal folk. On the other hand, with two full sets to play with, Taylor and his 11-piece band could afford to have fun with the setlist, mixing covers and extra songs amongst just about every hit fans could want.

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Concert Review / Fenway / Tour 2017

As Bonnie Raitt noted onstage last night, it’s not easy turning Fenway Park into a coffeehouse. But that’s exactly what she and headliner James Taylor did over the next three hours.

Packing the ballpark for the third summer in a row, Taylor delivered a warm and cozy evening, down to the reassuring cappers of “You’ve Got a Friend” and “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Genial and chatty between songs, he shared some career memories, including a priceless one about auditioning for the Beatles at Apple Records: “I opened this door and my whole life was there behind it.”

The songs were mostly familiar hits from the ’60s and ’70s, but they didn’t always sound the same. Taylor’s current band is a sophisticated jazz-rock outfit who took the songs closer to Steely Dan territory. He even had the drummer, Steve Gadd, who played those amazing fills on Steely Dan’s “Aja.” The band gave a Brazilian carnival feel to “First of May,” one of the few newer songs; and added a Caribbean lilt to “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Closing the main set, Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” sounded more like vintage Motown than Taylor’s hit version from the ’70s.

Though he resisted most Fenway performers’ temptation to namecheck the Red Sox at every turn, Taylor did please the faithful with “Angels of Fenway,” a song celebrating their World Series victory in 2004. And there was still time for him to slip into the sensitive troubadour mode of old, as the mid-set offered gentler acoustic versions of “Sweet Baby James” (which he finally revealed, was not about himself but his brother Alex’s son) and “Fire and Rain.” A couple of deeper tracks from that era also scored, including the song from the Apple audition, “Something in the Way She Moves.”

Bonnie Raitt also kept her set on the more intimate side, toning down the scorching slide-guitar workouts she plays on rockier nights. But she did salute local folk/blues hero Chris Smither with “Love Me Like a Man,” and did an especially heartfelt version of her longtime showpiece “Angel From Montgomery.” And when Taylor joined her to wrap the set with John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” they knocked that one right out of the park.

[Photo by Arthur Pollock, bostonherald.com]




Concert Review / Tour 2017

Houstonians had other entertainment options other than live music on a Tuesday night (August 1), with the red-hot Astros barreling towards the playoffs and playing at Minute Maid just up LaBranch Street from Toyota Center. This was apparent, as the arena was not sold out for two legendary performers. Many fans were still wrapping up their early-bird specials as James Taylor sauntered onstage and greeted the crowd with, “Houston, welcome to the James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt Summer Tour. You got the right ticket.”

He then brought his tourmate and her band up onstage. The 11-time Grammy winner’s flaming red mane with the white spot up front makes her look more like a Marvel superhero than a badass blues guitarist.

Before the band broke into a folksy-rock cover of INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” Raitt spoke of being back in the land of Urban Cowboy, reminiscing about being in the classic film: “My liver is just now starting to recover.” If her liver was having issues, it had no effect on her voice or guitar playing; both were flawless and impeccable.

As the band started playing a mashup of Chaka Khan’s “You Got the Love” and “Love Sneakin’ Up On You,” a handful of people too smart for their own good left their seats to go to the restroom and/or grab a drink before the massive intermission crowds hit, but they missed a big surprise — the last song of her set, when Taylor came out with an electric guitar to accompany Raitt on “Thing Called Love.” The two legendary singer-songwriters meshed perfectly together, neither of them stealing the spotlight from the other.

Taylor emerged from the break to take a seat in front of the incredible stage, a large LED backdrop supplemented by several smaller screens of various sizes that floated across the stage. The great storyteller thanked everyone for bringing him back to Houston and started the set with “Carolina On My Mind.”

Someone screamed “Sweet Baby James!” Taylor said, “we will play that” and held up a huge set list, at least three and a half feet tall, and pointed towards the bottom. “It’s down here,” Taylor said. “We are up here still, but I’ll remind you when we get there.” The 69-year-old performer seemed to truly be in his element during the “Steamroller” jam session moving across the stage like one of those whippersnappers at the Warped Tour. Upon catching his breath, he thanked the crowd for indulging the group during a “shameless display of pseudofunk.”

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Concert Review / Photos / Tour 2017

James Taylor filled Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night with nearly two hours and half a century of American music staples.

Ranging from the set’s first song “Carolina in My Mind” to the final encore, an acoustic duet with opening act Bonnie Raitt on “You Can Close Your Eyes,” Taylor’s masterfully delicate guitar work stamped each song as his mellow voice slid through the lyrics.

“Nashville! It’s been a while,” he said at the conclusion of “Carolina in My Mind.” “It’s all about this incredible band,” he added gesturing to the players behind him, including a percussionist, two horn players, a keyboardist, three backup singers, an additional guitarist and a violinist. “It’s the light of my life to get to play with them.”

“A Nashville cat?” he asked. “Apparently when you are a significant part of the music scene here, they make you a Nashville Cat. Who decides that?”

The combination of the singer’s sharp wit, stage set and soft style made the evening reminiscent of an intimate, elaborate living room concert in which the singer told jokes and talked to friends between songs.

“I was abroad for a year,” he said, pausing. “That never sounds right. When I was overseas.”

The joke was the set up for his classic “Sweet Baby James,” a song he wrote on his way to see his newborn namesake nephew upon the singer’s return from England.

“I went to see the little varmint myself,” Taylor said. “I thought, ‘This calls for a cowboy lullaby, a Gene Autry kind of thing.’ ”

Taylor barraged the audience with cute photos of his pug during “Sunny Skies” and recalled the song that started his career – “Something in the Way She Moves.” Taylor explained it was the first song he ever wrote, then clarified it was his first song he wrote that he would play in public. It was also the song that led him to The Beatles. Taylor said he played “Something in the Way She Moves” for Paul McCartney and George Harrison.  [tennessean.com]




Concert Review / Photos / Tour 2017

Taylor’s nearly two-hour show was a lesson is masterful storytelling – both in conversation and lyrics – and enduring songs.

Yes, maybe some of those ballads are a little TOO soothing when presented in a batch, but when you’re the guy who has written “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” and “Fire and Rain,” you pretty much have musical carte blanche for life.

Taylor’s clean stage made ample use of a video screen that glowed with scenic backdrops, close-ups of the musicians on stage and, during “Sunny Skies,” his adorable pug, Ting.

Those who have shared concert time with Taylor know that he’s as famous for his dry wit as he is his subtly terrific guitar work.

“It means a lot to me, that last one,” he said after “October Road,” the title track to his 2002 album. “This next one means nothing to me.”

He was kidding, of course, as he and his ace band dove into “Steamroller,” complete with musical breakdowns by Walt Fowler on trumpet and Larry Goldings on organ. Taylor, 69, duck-walked across the stage to catch guitarist Michael Landau uncork a stinging solo, then goofily improvised lyrics and pulled a few bluesman faces to end the song.

Throughout the set, Taylor’s voice was creamy and emotive, pausing in the right spots to allow saxophonist Lou Marini to present a sleek solo in “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” and following the percussive thrust of Luis Conte on “Mexico.”

He also told the origin story about “Something in the Way She Moves” from his Apple Records debut – a particularly noteworthy sidebar considering several members of Paul McCartney’s band were in the audience (Macca plays the venue on Thursday).

“I played this for Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968 and the world changed for me that day,” Taylor said. “It was like walking through a door and the rest of my life was on the other side of it.”

The lullaby “Sweet Baby James” (a lone concertgoer with a cigarette lighter flicked it overhead during the ballad) and the emotional see-saw that is “Fire and Rain” – with some delicate drum rolls added for effect – maintained the mellow mood, but Taylor prepared a string of uptempo singalongs to ensure the audience left with smiling faces.  [music.blog.ajc.com]




Concert Review / Tanglewood / Tour 2017

Nine-thirty in the morning, with Tanglewood’s gates set to open at 5 p.m. for the first show of James Taylor’s two-night stand with his home team of fans. And there they were, scores of the most fervent and faithful, lined up for a run at the choice lawn sections.

Nearly 50 years into his recording and performing career, making his 25th set of appearances here, the indefatigable singer-songwriter remains at 69 a phenomenon among pop music artists.

With his top shelf band of All-Stars, JT took care of business once again for an adoring audience — a generous helping of 22 old favorites (plus two encores), including a sprinkling of less often-heard deep tracks.

There were more special lighting effects than in the past, with LED bulbs embedded within white lampshades arrayed across the back of the stage, along with multi-colored spotlights shining with blinding intensity to close hard-rocking renditions of “Country Road,” “Handy Man,” “Mexico,” “Steamroller” and a blazing second-set finale, “How Sweet It Is” that had listeners swaying, singing and dancing, eager for more. Which they got.

As heard on Tuesday night, it was a high-flame warm-up for the 17-city tour Taylor is launching Thursday night with old friend and on-stage collaborator Bonnie Raitt, who appeared during the second half as a special guest as heralded several days ago when word slipped out.

In 1981, his 10th studio album, “Dad Loves His Work,” was released, with deep personal implications — his father Isaac, a physician, had left the family for a two-year “Operation Deep Freeze” expedition to the South Pole in 1954 and, like father, like son, James was a traveling man at that time as his first-family children, Ben and Sally, were growing up.

Clearly, JT remains a happy road warrior, easily the most active performer of his generation. And the audience — more than 36,000 strong over two nights at Tanglewood — keeps returning, assured that they hear the soundtrack of their youth, musical comfort food of prime quality.

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