BROWARD/PALM BEACH NEW TIMES – Concert Review: James Taylor and Carole King at BankAtlantic Center, Saturday, June 5
By Lee Zimmerman
James Taylor and Carole King
BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
Saturday, June 5, 2010
There’s no song with a title that mentions “Memories” anywhere within the combined repertoire of James Taylor and Carole King, even though they share so more sentimental songs in common. In fact, it’s hard to find even a mere mention of the word in any of their numbers. It only appeared once, towards the end of the reformed duo’s Saturday night’s set at BankAtlantic Center, appropriately written into a new verse composed specifically for this tour and melded as a coda to “You’ve Got a Friend,” arguably the cushiest song of friendship ever written. And yet, though the word was mentioned only fleetingly, its meaning was on the minds of all those in attendance, audience and performers alike. With most of the set drawn from material written and recorded nearly 40 years back, memories and sentiment were an integral part of the evening.
And what an evening it was. Two performers whose simpatico connection transcends those four decades, whose love and affection for one another and their audience was clearly evident and never forced. What other concert finds the musicians applauding one another after every song, or so effectively embracing the audience without falsely pandering to their expectations? Two singer-songwriters whose careers practically define the form, the original stellar backing band — including Leland Sklar on bass, drummer Hal Blaine, and the man who played with both and brought them together originally, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar — and of course, those magnificent songs, those anthems that melted the hearts of an entire generation: “So Far Away,” “Something in the Way She Moves,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Up On the Roof,” “Fire and Rain.” It was, in three words, a baby boomer bonanza.
The origins of the present tour go back to 2007 when the duo reunited for the 50th anniversary celebration of L.A.’s legendary Troubadour club, where they performed together in the early ’70s and which also served as birthplace to practically very notable act and artist to emerge from L.A.’s Laurel Canyon and, for that matter, the concrete canyons of the east coast as well. The concert was recorded for posterity and issued earlier this year as Live at the Troubadour, also inspiring this Troubador road show that began in March in the far east and continues into early July as it works its way toward the Northeast and eventually back out west.
All the more remarkable then that despite several months on the road and a relationship that’s outlasted most marriages — including their own — that this concert seemed as if it was their first, flushed with energy, affection, mutual awe and admiration. The pair walked onto the stage holding hands and exited the same way, and every often they exchanged knowing glances, gave one another a friendly touch, and acted like giddy newlyweds barely able to contain their exhilaration. King, at 68, and Taylor, at 62, displayed an exuberance that performers half their age would be hard-pressed to replicate, dancing around the stage, hopping and bobbing when the music moved them, as it did so often. When King sang her signature “Natural Born Woman,” suffice it to say that Aretha may have claimed it, but King inhabited it. Likewise, when Taylor replayed the autobiographical exorcism that is “Fire and Rain,” the fact that he’s sung it literally every performance and thousands of times was never in evidence. As he finished, he looked as if he was as genuinely moved as the audience.
Never mind then that the musicians were older, in many ways a physical reflection of the older crowd that had come to see them — balding, graying, paunchier around the midsection. They sang as gracefully as they did in their prime, Taylor’s pliable vocals flowing seamlessly around the music and lyrics, King’s sandpapery voice segueing from celebration to sensitivity to smooth harmony. Likewise, the other accompanists adroitly added the nuances that recreated the original recorded arrangements — including keyboardist Robbie Kondor, singer Kate Markowitz and omnipresent vocalist Arnold McCuller who practically stole the show on the rousing “Shower the People.” (“He sounded good,” Taylor remarked afterwards before adding with a feigned look of resentment, “Maybe too good.”) Not surprising, considering the fact that Kortchmar, Sklar and Blaine, as their band the Section, were playing on practically all of them.
Yet, as fresh and vital as the performers still sounded, their reach-out to the crowd was the element that resonated as much as anything. The two seemed genuinely grateful, not only to each other, but to their fans as well. “Thank you for coming out,” Taylor commented early on, joking, “We had to be here, but you didn’t have to. It wouldn’t have been the same without you. We could have played, but if you weren’t here, something would have been missing.” Later, he thanked the audience again. “We’re grateful for having you as an audience,” he remarked, seemingly caught up in the emotion. “We’re grateful to you for bringing us to this place.” And as they played a final encore, just the two of them, having seemingly decided on the spot to give the crowd one final expression of devotion — a soothing rendition of “You Can Close Your Eyes” which had King sinking her head onto Taylor’s shoulder and nearly seduced by tears — the emotional pull was contagious.
Not that the entire evening was reduced to a wellspring of nostalgia and sentiment — far from it. The rotating stage gave opportunity for all corners of the audience to share a connection with the celebration on stage and stage-side tables and intimate lighting replicated the Troubadour ambience. So too, Taylor in particular has always been a self-effacing entertainer, his rubbery facial features and sly wit belying his image as a tender troubadour. “Now from the sublime to the ridiculous,” he announced after King finished a particularly tender take on her first major hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” prior to his taking over the spotlight by mugging his way though his own “Steamroller Blues” while unashamedly juggling every bluesy cliché in the book. Indeed, the intros, most filled with insights and anecdotes about how the songs came into existence, were often as entertaining as the actual renditions. On the namesake of “Machine Gun Kelly”: “His wife henpecked him onto the ‘most wanted’ list.” On “Sweet Baby James”: “In a moment of weakness, my brother Alex and his wife named their new baby after me. So on the way down to see the little varmit, I thought of it as a kind of cowboy lullaby, something Roy Rogers or Gene Autry might sing.”
“When we first wrote out the set list, there was so much material it became a seven-hour show,” Taylor remarked to the delight of the crowd. “The process of dropping songs felt like dropping your kids off at camp.” Nevertheless, with a concert encapsulating nearly 30 classics over the course of just under three hours, it would be hard to muster any complaints. Sure, it could have covered twice as many tunes and easily run to the seven hours originally measured. However as it is, this was indeed the show to see. As much as could be seen when overcome by those tears of joy.
Personal bias: There’s no way not to love these timeless songs, or the gentle disposition of the performers that play them.
Random detail: It was especially touching when King introduced her mother, Broward resident Eugenia Gingold. At 94 years old, she appeared as revved up as the rest of the crowd, waving her arms triumphantly as her image flashed on the overhead monitors. Good genes must run in the family. Read more about her here.
By the way: This was a concert any mother could love, or for that matter, any dad, kid, grandparent and grandkid too.