THE HARTFORD COURANT – James Taylor, Carole King Masterful at Mohegan
By Donna Larcen
Reunions are always tricky.
But when it’s Carole King and James Taylor getting together to celebrate a 40-year-old concert, the meeting transcends nostalgia.
In the first of two performances Saturday at the Mohegan Sun, King and Taylor rolled out a generous 28-song retrospective of greatest hits, played in fresh ways. They tapped the talents of musicians who were with them at the beginning: guitarist Danny Kortchmar (who introduced the artists in 1969), bass player Leland Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel.
Taylor brought along backup singers Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz plus Andrea Zonn, who also performed on violin.
Like two heavyweight boxers Taylor then King traded songs. But they are the most cooperative of performers, providing harmony and support as each took the spotlight.
Taylor kicked off with “Something In the Way She Moves,” the song that landed him a deal with the Beatles’ Apple label. King followed with “So Far Away,” from her mega hit album “Tapestry.”
Taylor is the introvert; King the opposite. He is likely to sit or stand behind his guitar sing smoothly and proficiently with attention to detail and harmony. She accompanied herself on piano turning out hit after hit but doing it with big smiles and, at times, grabbing a hand mike, strutting on stage and belting out her songs.
King performed a vintage version of her early hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” with Taylor bowing to her at the end. He then showed his goofy side on “Steamroller Blues” playing with the lyrics, duck walking across the stage and then, in a nod to his 62 years, using the guitar as a crutch to get back to an upright position.
King’s infectious good humor and musicianship challenged Taylor and each rose to a level beyond what they may do in a solo concert.
And so it went through 28 songs.
Their regular set ended with King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” a hit for both of them.” And this was the theme of the night. These solo artists have always surrounded themselves with great collaborators: King at the start with her co-writer and then-husband Gerry Goffin. Taylor with Kortchmar in his first group as a teen and harmonizing with ex-wife Carly Simon.
It was also telling that each performing as aged without benefit of plastic surgery. She has wrinkles and he is balding. Who cares. Their life experience comes through in their music and their performances, making them resonant to a crowd with its own aging issues.
The duo played a series of concerts in 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Troubadour, a legendary club in West Hollywood. Something sparked and they talked about touring. They came up with enough material for a 6-hour show, so each night the set list has some changes. The set list includes a core of hits: Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Country Road” and King’s “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Up on the Roof.”
The crowd was dependable and ready for multiple sing- alongs. Sign any of them up for back up duty. They knew all the words, sang in harmony and clapped on the beat.
The staging is suggestive of the Troubadour’s interior. The circular stage rotates slowly (remember the original Oakdale?) while a ring of cabaret tables are lit with soft table lights. Video screens project the performers; a round screen above the stage showed background images, including decades old photos of a curly haired King and long-haired Taylor from their early collaborations.
After a two-hour plus show with encore, King and Taylor came for an intimate closing. He played guitar and she perched next to him as they crooned “You Can Close Your Eyes.” As they finished, she leaned into him gently placing her head on his shoulder.
It was sweet ending to a powerful night.
“Carole King & James Taylor Troubadour Reunion Tour” repeats tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun’s Arena. Tickets are $75 and $95. Information: 888-226-7711 and http://www.mohegansun.com.