Back in the early winter of 1972, when WC was trying to impress the lady who eventually become known as the Cat Thief, WC sprang for a pair of tickets to see James Taylor at the Chicago Opera House. Taylor was touring in support of his fourth album, One Man Dog. WC remembers the concert fondly, if not well.
Some 44 years later, WC had an opportunity to see him again. And it was a terrific show.
We both had a lot more hair 44 years ago, but otherwise, Taylor is much the same. A skilled musician and a gifted songwriter, he has never been afraid to surround himself with superb musicians. If anything, he is more charming, more open and more self-effacing on stage than he used to be. And that distinctive voice hasn’t changed at all.
The show was at Taco Bell Arena which, for all its efforts, still is a basketball pavilion and has slightly only better acoustics you’d expect. We had pretty good seats, but cameras aren’t permitted so WC had to make do with his cell phone.
Taylor gave us two sets, each a mix of old favorites and a few newer songs. There was an excellent cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” done in that downbeat, Cape Cod mellow style that he brought to “Up on the Roof.” An absolutely kick-ass version of “Walking Man,” and a suite of North Carolina songs. And a lovely version of the iconic “Fire and Rain.”
The second set left all that mellow schtick behind and flat-out rocked, with some pretty cool multimedia effects. The version of “Sweet Baby James,” a song written for his nephew, was lovely, with a video behind the band leafing through a cartoon pop-up book and a little boy as a cowboy. And the version of “Steamroller Blues” rocked the house down.
A few words about Taylor’s band. Many have been performing with him for years. Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar isn’t on the tour, but Arnold McCuller still sings backup, and Lou Marini still plays that great sax. Other members included Jimmy Johnson and Michael Landau on electric guitars, Steve Gadd on drums Andrea Zonn on backup vocals and fiddle. The band was drum tight, comfortable with each other and completely locked in Taylor’s sometimes varying vocal rhythms.
But the highlight of the show came at the end when, as most of us hadl hoped, Taylor brought out Carole King for a few songs.
The already raucous crowd went crazy. King did “If You Call (Out My Name)” and then a few duets with Taylor. King’s voice hasn’t held up as well as Taylor’s but the magic is still there. King’s Tapestry is still the longest album on the Billboard 200 by a woman and the fifth longest of all time. It was sheer delight to see the two of them together on stage.
It’s amazing Taylor is still with us. He’s struggled with depression, drug addiction and failure. But last Wednesday night, that was all in the past. Of the three geezer acts WC has seen in the last few months – Elton John, Paul Simon and James Taylor – Taylor gave us the best concert.
Thanks, James, for a great evening and great memories.