POST-GAZETTE.COM — James Taylor breezes into Consol Energy Center, warm and reliable
By Scott Mervis
Just call him Mr. Reliable.
More than any other member of his folk-rock generation, James Taylor leaves his fans with absolutely nothing to complain about.
He’s as humble and self-deprecatingly funny as they come. His voice is still honey smooth. He plays the songs people want to hear in the way they always sounded, and he tosses in just enough deep tracks to make it interesting. The musicianship is note perfect and it’s all as laid-back and folksy as a house concert. You can almost feel your blood pressure dropping as you listen to him.
Having played the last-ever show at the Civic Arena, he made his Consol Energy Center debut Saturday with his All-Star Band, the most notable members being ace drummer Steve Gadd and horn player Sweet Lou Marini, of Blues Brothers fame.
He started from the beginning, walking on stage with a prayer-like bow to the crowd for a beautiful version of “Something in the Way She Moves,” the song he played for Paul McCartney and George Harrison for his Apple audition for his 1968 debut.
“It’s not the first song I ever wrote, but probably the earliest one I’m willing to play in public,” he said.
Mr. Taylor hasn’t released an album of new songs since 2002, but he had a new one to drop on us with “Today, Today, Today,” a country boogie number with fiddler Andrea Zonn that wasn’t too catchy on first listen.
“Lo and Behold” and “Copperline” were the kind of deeper album cuts that are welcome live and the classic “Country Road” and “One More Go Round” let the 10-piece band rock out with bluesy and Stax-style finishes, respectively, thanks in part to guitarist Michael Landau. “Millworker” was given a Celtic treatment with fiddle and penny whistle.
Going back to Apple and 1968, he said, “I walked through a door and the rest of my life was on the other side of it. Homesick for the States while living in London then, he wrote “Carolina in my Mind,” which was a beauty of course in the hands of this supple band and warm-voiced singer. Capping the first set, he introduced his young son Henry on backing vocals for “Shower the People,” a showcase for resident soul belter Arnold McCuller.
The second set, which he teased as being “perfectly adequate,” eased in like a California breeze with another new song, “Stretch of the Highway,” that was more of a keeper, with a Steely Dan-type groove. “You and I Again,” also new, was a gentle expression of mature love with clips of him with his wife.
“Handy Man” — “a tasteful little number” indeed — was paired with a slow-moving “Steamroller,” compete with JT doing funny old bluesman faces, that picked up steam into a screaming blues jam.
It led to a crowd-pleasing run of hits: “Fire and Rain” so pretty and sad that tissues may have been in order: “Up on the Roof” a sweet little escape; an invitation to “get up and shake something” for “Mexico” (with mariachi horns and a touch of Santana) and the joyous “Your Smiling Face.”
For the encore, the band took “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” to church and settled in for a fireside-sounding “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.”
If you had to describe the show in one word, it would be “warm.” Warm sound, warm messages and nothing but warmth from a legend who plays from the heart and, for two-plus hours, helps you leave this troubled world behind.
Something in the Way She Moves
Today, Today, Today
Lo and Behold
Everyday (Buddy Holly cover)
Carolina in My Mind
One More Go Round
Sweet Baby James
Shower the People
Stretch of the Highway
You and I Again
Raised Up Family
Fire and Rain
Up on the Roof
Your Smiling Face
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
You’ve Got a Friend
Wild Mountain Thyme