August 14, 2017 | « back

BOSTONHERALD.COM — James Taylor delights Fenway crowd again

By Brett Milano

As Bonnie Raitt noted onstage last night, it’s not easy turning Fenway Park into a coffeehouse. But that’s exactly what she and headliner James Taylor did over the next three hours.

Packing the ballpark for the third summer in a row, Taylor delivered a warm and cozy evening, down to the reassuring cappers of “You’ve Got a Friend” and “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Genial and chatty between songs, he shared some career memories, including a priceless one about auditioning for the Beatles at Apple Records: “I opened this door and my whole life was there behind it.”

The songs were mostly familiar hits from the ’60s and ’70s, but they didn’t always sound the same. Taylor’s current band is a sophisticated jazz-rock outfit who took the songs closer to Steely Dan territory. He even had the drummer, Steve Gadd, who played those amazing fills on Steely Dan’s “Aja.” The band gave a Brazilian carnival feel to “First of May,” one of the few newer songs; and added a Caribbean lilt to “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Closing the main set, Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” sounded more like vintage Motown than Taylor’s hit version from the ’70s.

Though he resisted most Fenway performers’ temptation to namecheck the Red Sox at every turn, Taylor did please the faithful with “Angels of Fenway,” a song celebrating their World Series victory in 2004. And there was still time for him to slip into the sensitive troubadour mode of old, as the mid-set offered gentler acoustic versions of “Sweet Baby James” (which he finally revealed, was not about himself but his brother Alex’s son) and “Fire and Rain.” A couple of deeper tracks from that era also scored, including the song from the Apple audition, “Something in the Way She Moves.”

Bonnie Raitt also kept her set on the more intimate side, toning down the scorching slide-guitar workouts she plays on rockier nights. But she did salute local folk/blues hero Chris Smither with “Love Me Like a Man,” and did an especially heartfelt version of her longtime showpiece “Angel From Montgomery.” And when Taylor joined her to wrap the set with John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” they knocked that one right out of the park.