James Taylor stands in appreciation as the crowd cheers. | Photo: Matt Perko

Watching a James Taylor concert at the Bowl is a lot like having dinner with an old friend when you haven’t seen each other in a while. The first few moments of playing catch-up are a bit awkward: neither of you is as young as you used to be, and it can be jarring to see when those changes hit you all at once, rather than gradually as they do with the people you see all the time. But within a few minutes you’re back to laughing and smiling the way you used to, and it doesn’t take long to remember why you loved this person so much. 

Songs like his opener, “Something in the Way She Moves,” from his 1968 debut album James Taylor for Apple Records, about which he said was “the earliest song I’m willing to play in public,” are great reminders of the enduring charms of Taylor’s earnest melodies. “This was my audition piece for Apple Records. George Harrison and Paul McCartney signed me after I played it,” said Taylor. He noted rather cheekily that they liked it so much that, “afterward George went home and wrote it himself,” a reference to Harrison liking the song so much that he began with the words “Something in the way she moves” as the first line of his 1969 song “Something” from the Beatles album Abbey Road.

Up next was another old ditty, “Rainy Day Man,” followed by “Copperline,” which Taylor lyrically described as “a musical landscape painting about where I grew up in North Carolina.” The beautiful “Mona” (which previously unbeknownst to me is “about a pig and cold-hearted, cold-blooded, premeditated murder”) and a cover of the Chicks’ “Some Days You’ve Gotta Dance,” were early highlights of the show, as was the lullaby “Sweet Baby James,” an ode to Taylor’s then newborn nephew and namesake. “Shower the People,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “Fire and Rain” were among the other highlights of a lovely, heartfelt show.

The voice quality of a 75-year-old man, however spry he may be, is different than that of the 22-year-old he was when he wrote “Sweet Baby James” and many of his other hits — but what Taylor lacks in vocal range he more than makes up for in wit, charm, perspective, and the ability to put together a hell of a great band to work with. They all were exceptional, particularly Lou Marini (Blood Sweat & Tears, the original Saturday Night Live band) on sax, Andrea Zonn on vocals and fiddle, Larry Goldings on piano, and Michael Landau on guitar. And the sound mix was also notably terrific (something I usually only notice when it doesn’t work).

My only complaint about the whole lovely evening is that the band was so good, and Taylor was so charming, I wish they had trusted the music a bit more — show us more close-ups of these amazing musicians — and leaned a little less on the cheesy and unnecessarily distracting background videos. But that’s a minor matter in a show that was so memorable. It even had the perfect last two songs for the encore: the aptly reflective “Secret ‘o Life,” (“the secret of life is enjoying the things you have …”) followed by a beautiful duet of “Close Your Eyes” with Taylor’s 22-year-old son Henry Taylor, who sang back-up vocals for most of the night, but joined his father on guitar for that one. 


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