519MAGAZINE.COM — When I Grow Up I Wanna Be Like James Taylor Was in London, Ontario
By Dan Savoie
When I grow up, I wanna be just like James Taylor was at his show in London, Ontario. At 74, the iconic singer-songwriter has more energy than my 54-year-old self will ever have. His recent concert at Budweiser Gardens in London on April 30 was evidence of a man who enjoys life, performance and the ideology of a good song. He was also joined by Jackson Browne, a headliner in his own right.
With a nearly two-hour performance that saw Taylor moving and jumping much like the 50-year-olds touring out there, his 519 area fans were not disappointed. Having to wait two years to see the legendary performer hit the Forest City was the furthest thing from their minds once the first couple words of Country Road came bursting out across the arena.
It was as good a James Taylor set as you’d ever get. With 19 studio albums and countless other recordings to choose from, one can never be truly satisfied, but this setlist covered all the basis, including a stellar version of Easy as Rollin’ Off a Log, a rare 1930s song from the Warner Brothers cartoon Katnip Kollege he covered on his last album American Standard.
His voice is still silky and smooth and he even had a little fun with facial expressions and body movements with his blues parody Steamroller Blues, which originally appeared on his 1970s album Sweet Baby James.
One of the reasons this tour is amongst the best out there is Taylor’s touring band, which includes an A-list of studio and touring musicians, such as horn player Lou Marini (best known from his days in The Blues Brothers, on Saturday Night Live and with Blood Sweat and Tears); percussionist Luis Conte (Phil Collins, rod Stewart, Madonna and more); guitarist Michael Landau (Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd and others); pianist Larry Goldings (his list is so long, it would take this whole article just to list them); keyboardist and horns by Walt Fowler (Matchbox Twenty to Nancy Sinatra to The Dark Knight soundtrack); bassist Jimmy Johnson (Peter Cetera, Ray Charles, Roger Waters and many others); Michito Sanchez (one of Los Angeles’ top studio and live percussionists); drummer Steve Gadd (Simon & Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, Chick Corea and many others); and keyboardist Kevin Hayes (Bob Beldon, Eddie Henderson and more). It truly is an all-star band.
Joining Taylor on vocals were long-time backup singers Kate Markowitz, Arnold McCuller and Dorian Holley. Between the four of them (including Taylor), the four vocalists have performed on hundreds of records and worked with a wide array of musicians including Bonnie Raitt, Phil Collins, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Todd Rundgren, George Jones, Luther Vandross, Billy Joel, and Cher.
The four-song encore, which allowed the vocalists to step up front, included a gorgeous version of his tender song Shed A Little Light. For many, this was a highlight and the point when they took to their feet. The team of vocalists had a chance to shine on the track.
Jackson Browne London, Ontario April 30-22Photo: Dan Savoie
Jackson Browne performs live at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario on April 30, 2022.
Taylor was joined by his special guest Jackson Browne for the remaining three encores, which included the Eagles mega-hit Take It Easy, originally written by Browne and Glen Frey. The show closed with the hit You’ve Got A Friend and the touching You Can Close Your Eyes, which Taylor wrote for his then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell while they were in New Mexico for Taylor’s acting debut in the 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop.
At this point, it became crystal clear. I must strive to be James Taylor for the rest of my life.
Guest, Jackson Browne, performed a modest 11-song set filled with sprinkles from throughout his career. Fans knew it was going to be a good show when he opened with Somebody’s Baby, a 1982 hit song from the soundtrack to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Browne, who’s just one year short of Taylor, is a bit more of a rocker at heart. His scruffy beard was a bit of a surprise for fans that might not have seen him live since the 80s or 90s, but that’s the only place where Browne’s age shows. It felt much like a Browne concert in the 90s, as was much of the material.
Three of the songs, tossed into the middle of the set, were from his last album Downhill from Everywhere, an album that doesn’t get the recognition is should, due to the pandemic. Fans were a bit more passionate about well-known songs like Somebody’s Baby, the 1972 hit Doctor My Eyes, 1978’s Running On Empty and the 1977 choice cut The Pretender. It would have been great to hear hits like Boulevard and Lawyers In Love, but for a shortened set, this was a fan-pleasing time-capsule.
For Browne’s last two songs, he was joined by Taylor in engaging versions of The Pretender and Running On Empty.