June 9, 2016 | « back

EDMONTONJOURNAL.COM — James Taylor charms Edmonton audience with quips, tunes at Fort McMurray benefit concert


Ridiculously charming in front of his oscillating 10-piece band, James Taylor mystically turned the NHL rink into an intimate soft-seater, his perfect sound defying the AM radio roots of these songs we all first loved at least a lifetime back.

“I love you, too. Kind of you to say that,” Taylor said with a smile Tuesday night. “A little awkward, I guess.”

The singer’s first act at Rexall Place was to remove his paperboy hat with a warm smile and sit right down with his acoustic and get into 1975’s Wandering and ’77’s Secret O’ Life.

“Thanks for bringing us back to Edmonton,” 68-year-old Taylor purred, noting all profits for this and his Calgary Saddledome show go to the Red Cross for Fort McMurray wildfire relief. “We thank you for that, too.” On a related note, he laughed of the large band, “When they heard they weren’t getting paid tonight they decided to get drunk — a little loose.”

The impressive outfit helped him rework a jazzy version of Buddy Holly’s Everyday. “Chaque jour,” he joked, “a little equal time for French.” Then, back to ’74, Walking Man. A night of classics, three songs in …

The new Today, Today Today — “aujourd’hui” he chuckled thrice — and the vertical plinths flanking the stage lit up into autumn-shaded Cajun skyscrapers.

Energetically punching out 1970’s Walking on a Country Road, Taylor first explained: “It’s basically about nature as church — hippy bulls–t kind of thing.” After, Blues Brothers saxophonist Lou Marini got a lot of yelps from the in-house 6,000.

God Have Mercy on The Frozen Man was a sentimental, fan-fiction shoutout to the Franklin Expedition, doing the North Carolina landscape-painting Copperline, then, before playing the epic Carolina in My Mind, explained how he listlessly hopped over to London in ’68, making a demo, which “got me an audition with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. I was clinically nervous, like a chihuahua on methamphetamines. They signed me up, so I was discovered by the Beatles.

“Just wish I could remember some of it.”

Besides sounding great, he was so funny. Responding to a yelled request before Carole King’s Up on the Roof, he held up his chalk set list: “I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. I’ll let you know.”

Responding to someone yelling for King, Taylor said, “I’ll let her know you enquired after her.”

Fire and Rain was yearning, haunted, tearjerking, Steve Gadd’s drumming masterful. Ovation time. Remember when this was pop music, roots or not?

Shed a Little Light took us to the halftime break.

“I don’t know why we do that,” deadpanned Taylor. “I just stand behind the curtain and look at my watch for 20 minutes.”

Talking about the second set, he said, “Mostly it’s just jam-packed with hit after hit,” noting his list was written on “some sort of roofing material. It’s strong yet flexible. Like I like my women!

“The old jokes are best!”

After signing bras and hockey cards from the stage all intermission, Taylor false-started with Snow Time, a meanderer over-set in Toronto (complete with Canadian flag, ugh), but we soon shot straight up with 1971’s stratospheric You’ve Got a Friend. This, he dedicated “to the people trying to go home up at Fort Mac.”

Chuck Berry’s The Promised Land got the full-on blues all greasy and writhing on the kitchen table, studio-Kevin-Bacon Jim Cox rolling it out on the piano. The massive, 40-year-old Shower the People followed, played straight, projected blood cells churning as Arnold McCuller’s killer voice pierced our drums.

The Boston-born singer played Angels of Fenway, about the Red Sox finally winning the World Series after Babe Ruth’s 86-year curse after he was traded to the Yankees. Sweet Baby James calmly echoed all the way from from 1970, the handsome singer raising his eyebrow for the lullabye, then pulled out his Fender, doing bizarre, froggy, speaking-in-tongues blues caricatures for Steamroller, kicking over his stool.

Next, including sombreros, Mexico proved Taylor’s hand in the rise of Jimmy Buffet. A Vegas’ed-up Your Smiling Face followed, spinning us deeper onto the cruise ship, Handycam holiday videos overhead on the big screen.

Encore: a soulful rock and roll museum including Eddie Floyd’s horn-muscled Knock on Wood and, from Marvin Gaye’s orbit, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).

Great show overall with a bit too much processed nacho cheese in the second half, Taylor is nonetheless easily summed up in one word: amazing.