James Taylor at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Paul Wellman

After almost half a century of music making, James Taylor may be growing weary of playing his hits night in and night out. But if that’s the way he feels, he’s certainly doing a good job hiding it; his concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl last week was an earnest and undeniably enjoyable performance, fueled by the same hits that helped launch Taylor’s career in the first place.

Performing for two and a half hours, Taylor’s remarkably smooth voice came across every bit as good live as it does on his albums. Many of the concert’s highlights occurred during Taylor’s biggest hits, as he seemed to feed off the energy of the enthusiastic audience. The excitement of the crowd reached a climax during “Fire and Rain,” in which Taylor sang each line with a heartfelt tenderness that likely made even the most die-hard fan feel as if they were listening to it for the first time. Other standout moments were classics like “Carolina In My Mind,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “Mexico.”

One of Taylor’s greatest strengths is his ability to find power in simplicity, and this poured into all aspects of Wednesday’s concert. Far from the visual spectacles that many concertgoers have come to expect out of their amphitheatre-sized acts, Taylor opted to make the night solely about the music. There were pictures and clips projected onto the screens to accompany the songs, such as a photo of a couple holding hands during the beautifully sentimental “You Are My Only One,” but that was about it in terms of visuals. Fortunately, these projections were used sparingly, but effectively, and ultimately proved to be the perfect complement to Taylor’s brand of acoustic music. Similarly, the band that accompanied Taylor did an excellent job of not stealing the spotlight; their less-is-more style nicely accentuated Taylor’s multitude of talents.

Most of the songs Taylor is performing on this tour were written decades ago, only proving the timelessness of his music. Though he may not be the flashiest or most outlandish performer around, last week’s Bowl concert served as an adequate reminder of Taylor’s unquestionable talent — and why millions remain devoted all these years later.


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