For my generation, there is perhaps no singer-songwriter with a more recognizable voice and style of guitar playing than James Taylor.
From the time he released his self-titled debut album in 1968 to the present, Taylor has cranked out an amazing body of work, including 17 studio albums, 6 compilation albums and 5 live albums. In the early ’70s, his music was like a soundtrack to my life with four stellar albums released during my college years alone.
JT turned 70 earlier this year and he’s still touring. Lucky for me.
I was among the thousands who filled the Moda Center Tuesday night for a two-hour show by Taylor and his All-Star Band. Believe me, it was great. His voice still sounds smooth after all these years, and he hasn’t lost a thing in producing beautiful melodies from his acoustic guitar.
With a songbook full of hits spanning six decades, Taylor had no shortage of material — and he chose wisely.
He opened the concert with “Carolina On My Mind” (one of my favorites) and “Country Road” and then weaved all over, selecting lesser-known songs of his own about a dog and a pig (“Sunny Skies” and “Mona”) and familiar covers of songs made popular in the ’50s and ’60s (“(I’m A) Road Runner,” “Up On The Roof,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Handy Man”).
The set list, consisting of about 26 songs, included ballads like “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight” and a version of the bluesy “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles,” a collaboration by Ray Charles and B.B. King.
Taylor closed his first set with the upbeat “Mexico,” then spent the entire 20-minute intermission just off the stage, signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. I got the feeling that he really does appreciate his fans, and that he’s probably a pretty chill dude when he’s not on the road.
JT began the second set with “Something In The Way She Moves” (such a lovely song) and went on to perform his biggest hits. “Sweet Baby James” (written for his brother’s newborn son) and “Fire and Rain” came back to back. “Shower The People” (another of my favorites) blew me away, with the fabulous background vocalist Arnold McCuller stepping up to own the last stanza (“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.”).
His three-song encore was amazing: “Shed A Little Light” (with its inspiring reference to Martin Luther King), a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” and, what else, Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”
A handful of odds ‘n’ ends:
— This was the second time I’d seen James Taylor, but it sure seemed like the first because I have no recollection of the earlier one.
In the days leading up to this concert, Lori insisted that we’d seen Taylor way back in the days before we became parents. We’d seen him at the Oregon State Fairgrounds when we lived in Salem, she said, adding that we even went with our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t remember seeing JT live, but last weekend Tom confirmed that it was true. So, yeah, I was wrong — and I still can’t explain the memory lapse.
— Tuesday’s concert originally was going to feature Bonnie Raitt, too, but she canceled plans to tour with Taylor because of an unspecified health issue. Early into the first set, Taylor asked the audience to stand for a “get well” photo that he promised would be texted to her. Would have loved to see Bonnie again.
— En route to the concert, I was struck by the sight of so many older people on the city sidewalks — graying, bald and many moving slowly — all headed in the same direction. Looked like they were headed to an AARP convention. That’s when I realized I was looking at my generational peers and fellow JT fans. Yikes.
— Considering his catalog of material, it would have been easy for Taylor to just come out and play his hits with no variation from the original arrangements. But he kept things fresh and interesting by fully involving his 7-piece band — including saxophone, trumpet and congas — and 3 backup singers. I would think doing that is essential if you’re going to deliver night after night, year after year, in city after city. The current tour began May 8 in Florida and continues tonight in Seattle.
— Like so many shows these days, this one featured multimedia images from beginning to end, with an array of video clips, photos, changing colors, snippets of lyrics and more complementing the music. I found it distracting at times, but I did appreciate JT’s recorded voice at the start of the show proclaiming, “I don’t animate a character. I don’t present a version of myself. I present myself.”
That he did.