QCONLINE.COM — “Sweet Baby James” gives and gets love at iWireless
By Jonathan Turner
MOLINE — After 46 years of recording and touring, James Taylor showed no signs of slowing down during his delightful, deeply satisfying show Thursday night at the iWireless Center.
The wry, wiry 66-year-old North Carolina native bathed the appreciate crowd (with the arena’s upper bowl curtained off) in a warm glow of nostalgia and a relaxed, conversational look back at his amazing, acclaimed career — with three new solid songs thrown in for good measure.
As in previous tours, Mr. Taylor began with “Something in the Way She Moves,” from his self-titled 1968 debut record for the Beatles’ Apple label. The romantic, soothing song — which paved the way for so many more velvety tunes of comfort and joy from the gentle, good-natured soul — featured the first of many beautiful harmonies Thursday from Mr. Taylor’s three backup singers.
A huge Beatles fan, he explained how he recorded his first album in the same London studio where the Beatles were simultaneously making “The White Album.”
“It was amazing to be tapped by them,” Mr. Taylor told the Moline crowd. “At the same time, I was just a kid. I hadn’t been away from home.” And that inspired his longing for home and the wondrous ode, “Carolina In My Mind.” Like several of the 24 songs Thursday night, it cast a hypnotic spell.
He introduced another classic from the same period as “a cowboy lullaby.” I was abroad for two years (pause). That always sounds wrong (hearty laughter). I was overseas, and my brother Alex had a kid. How they let my brother Alex have a kid is beyond me.”
Once he came home and saw the baby named in his honor, he wrote the sincerely sweet waltz, “Sweet Baby James.” As with many of the live versions here, Mr. Taylor and his awesome “all-star” band seemed to add extra layers of sound, depth and feeling. “Baby James” was enveloped by the musicians like a soft, sonic blanket where we’re all safe and loved.
His affection for his Carolina home also shone in “Copperline,” his 1991 single that he called a “landscape.” It lyrically paints a portrait of his native land and upbringing.
Visually, the concert also was a treat with varied and spectacular lighting effects. Rows of lights hung high above the stage, and seven towers (three on one side and four on the other) were used both for different colored lights and patterns, as well as video displays — such as nature scenes for “Country Road” and road tripping on the new, irresistible “Stretch of the Highway.”
I especially liked the nighttime city skyline for “Up on the Roof,” in which the towers appeared as lit skyscrapers. Very cool. The song’s passion revealed Mr. Taylor still has a strong high vocal register, and his jumping up and down (to the roof?) showed his energy and dedication remain unflagging.
It also was nice to see him stay on the edge of the stage during the intermission to sign autographs and take pictures with audience members.
The concert was full of the requisite hits — “Handy Man,” (with macho, frisky men in a video) “Mexico,” “Shower The People,” “Steamroller,” “Your Smiling Face” and “Everyday.” But it also featured a few deeper album cuts, like “Raised Up Family” (the bitter opposite of the loving “Shower”), “Lo and Behold” (soulful with a driving beat) and “One More Go Round” which he seemed embarrassed by, saying it was “all about the groove” and not the “weak” lyrics, which he displayed on the back video screen.
The first of the three new songs he introduced without mentioning any new album in the works was a shuffling, country-flavored “Today, Today, Today.” Mr. Taylor said it sounds a lot like his old ones (which how bad can that be?) and that he’s written “just 15 songs, 10 times each.
“I keep coming back to the same themes over and over,” he said.
“You and I Again” — the last new one — is a touching song about love over a lifetime (perhaps more than one) idealistic and hopeful, and profoundly moving.
While justly beloved for his heartfelt, mellow ballads, Thursday’s concert showed he also can get people moving and dancing with the powerful, infectious pop of “Mexico,” “Your Smiling Face” and his first encore, a powerhouse “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
He seemed genuinely to mean the last song, humbly grateful for the crowd’s response. With his dry, razor-sharp humor, keen intelligence and exceptional musicianship, Mr,. Taylor and his tight band know how to put on a quality concert. The Carole King classic “You’ve Got a Friend” and an old Scottish tune, “Wild Mountain Thyme,” closed out a terrifically entertaining night.