June 21, 2010 | « back

BOSTON.COM – Friends share a bond and songs

By Sarah Rodman

Saturday night at the TD Garden, in the first of two weekend shows, James Taylor and Carole King opened the floodgates of remembrance with a smashing joint performance that merged their distinctive voices and justly celebrated catalogs.

Members of the sold-out audience of 18,000 — whether they were firsthand witnesses to the early-’70s golden age the pair was celebrating, fans turned on by parents or elder siblings, or those from a younger generation just discovering the duo’s classics — were with Taylor and King every step of the way.

There was nothing faded or yellowing about the performances Saturday night. Instead, Taylor, King, and their crackling band illuminated their history — and the timelessness of their songwriting — in vibrant full color, pouring heart, soul, and remarkable skill into the 2 1/2-hour show celebrating friendship, contemplation, and joy. The concert was exactly what live shows are supposed to be: an emotional connection between the performers, and the performers and the audience.

The pair generally restricted themselves to pre-1980 material, the tunes they played at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles, when their lives were most intertwined.

Taylor offered up guitar backing to many of King’s best known songs — “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,’’ “So Far Away,’’ “Where You Lead’’ — while King lent piano accompaniment to a passel of his — “Sweet Baby James,’’ “Your Smiling Face,’’ “Fire and Rain.’’

They harmonized with tenderness on her still heart-rending “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,’’ his melancholy lullaby “You Can Close Your Eyes,’’ and the King-penned Everly Brothers hit “Crying in the Rain.’’ Where their catalogs literally intersect — his hit covers of her “You’ve Got a Friend’’ and “Up on the Roof’’ — they expertly stitched their arrangements together, as photos of the singer-songwriters as young’uns floated on video screens over their rotating, central stage.

They both also took the opportunity to do a little getting down. His typical charming self, Taylor got silly and funky on “Steamroller’’ and the spirited King turned into free-range Carole for “I Feel the Earth Move,’’ bounding around with an infectious energy. In a night of highs and continuous ovations, the one-two punch of what Taylor called “hymns for agnostics’’ — her “Beautiful,’’ his “Shower the People’’ — was particularly moving.

In addition to sharing songs and voices throughout the years Taylor and King also shared band members. The Troubadour-era trio returned in as good form as their bandleaders. Russ Kunkel gave the backbeat of everything from the soft ballads to the gospel shouters a crisp bite. Leland Sklar kept the pulse with his bass. And Danny Kortchmar — a talented songwriter in his own right — added stinging and supple guitar solos throughout with special mention going to his lyrical interludes during “It’s Too Late’’ and “Jazzman.’’ Taylor’s trio of gifted backing vocalists and King’s multi-instrumentalist former son-in-law Robbie Kondor filled out the sound perfectly.

Given the strength of the performance there’s no doubt that many new memories were formed Saturday night.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at