ENTERTAINMENT-FOCUS.COM — James Taylor Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, London Live Review
By Pip Ellwood-Hugues
James Taylor is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists that has ever lived. Active since 1966, Taylor has paved the way for today’s crop of male singer-songwriters such as Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. His 1970 breakthrough single ‘Fire and Rain’ catapulted him to international fame and the album it came from, ‘Sweet Baby James’, is considered to be one of the all-time classics in the Rock/Folk genre. Since that success Taylor has gone on to achieve numerous Platinum certifications and he’s enjoyed a career that has spanned an incredible seven decades. Last night, Taylor brought his latest tour to London’s Hammersmith Eventim Apollo after a series of delays caused by the pandemic.
Split into two sets, with an intermission in the middle, Taylor delivered an impressive 22 songs across the just over two hours he was on stage. Opening with ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, which started as a solo acoustic number before the band came in to join him, Taylor sounded on fine form vocally. He’s blessed with one of music’s most distinctive voices and there’s something spine-tingling about being able to witness him perform live. Highlights in the first part of the set included the fantastic ‘Sweet Baby James’ and the live-life-to-the-full message of ‘Never Die Young’, which Taylor joked he was now too old to worry about. For ‘Long Ago and Far Away’, Taylor explained to the audience that he had asked Joni Mitchell for permission to use her backing vocals from the original track, before launching into one of the night’s finest moments. Taylor closed out the first set with a cover of Carole King’s ‘Up on the Roof’, which ended things on a high.
Opening the second part of the show, Taylor divulged that his cover of ‘Teach Me Tonight’, covered by many artists including Dinah Washington, allowed him to live out a childhood fantasy of getting it on with the teacher. Taylor’s cheeky way of letting the audience in on that secret was pretty funny, and just one of many examples of his warm humour. Elsewhere in the second part of the set, Taylor hit on favourites such as ‘Caroline in My Mind’, ‘Mexico’ and the optimistic anthem ‘Shower the People’.
Of course, the biggest reaction of the night was reserved for ‘Fire and Rain’. Earlier in the set when he was introducing ‘Copperline’, members of the audience got over excited and Taylor joked that he was going to sing the song they were expecting… just not quite yet. By the time ‘Fire and Rain’ came around, the audience was more than ready and it was quite special to sit in an auditorium as intimate as the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo as Taylor performed and the audience listened so intently. The song has lost none of its magic and Taylor’s performance packed the same emotional punch it did on the original recording.
Aside from the songs, Taylor won the audience over with his charisma and sense of humour. Between songs he cracked jokes, told stories about getting sober and admitted he couldn’t always remember the events that led to some of his classic songs. Taylor came across as endearing and warm, leading the audience from one laugh to the next before wowing them with another song. He’s a true raconteur and quite simply put, a class act, and had the audience in stitches when he picked up the large double-sided set-list from the floor to see what was coming next.
Taylor returned to the stage for a three-song encore following ‘Your Smiling Face’. He kicked off with his version of the Carole King classic “You’ve Got a Friend” before delivering his unique take on Marvin Gaye’s ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’. The final song of the night was ‘Wandering’ from 1975 album ‘Gorilla’ and it was a perfect, and emotional, end to a fantastic night of live music.
What was so evident over the course of the show is just how easily Taylor moves through genre. In a world where we’re desperate to pigeonhole artists into one genre, Taylor proved that there’s really no need. He’s as comfortable with folk and rock, as he is with blues and soul, and that’s been evident throughout his career.
James Taylor may be in his mid-70s but he’s as charming and entertaining today as he’s ever been. With an incredible catalogue of songs to choose from, and backed by a remarkably talented all-star band, Taylor proved that this tour has been more than worth the weight. When you have much younger artists struggling to perform for more than 70 minutes, you realise just how much of a true artist Taylor is. He’d have happily stayed on the stage all night and performed, and the audience would have happily let him.
Set list: Set 1 – 1. Something in the Way She Moves 2. That’s Why I’m Here 3. Walking Man 4. (I’ve Got to) Stop Thinkin’ ‘Bout That 5. Sweet Baby James 6. The Frozen Man 7. Never Die Young 8. Steamroller 9. Copperline 10. Long Ago and Far Away 11. Up on the Roof (Carole King cover) Set 2 – 12. Teach Me Tonight (Dinah Washington cover) 13. Bittersweet (John Sheldon cover) 14. You Make It Easy 15. Fire and Rain 16. Carolina in My Mind 17. Mexico 18. Shower the People 19. Your Smiling Face Encore: 20. You’ve Got a Friend (Carole King cover) 21. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) (Marvin Gaye cover) 22. Wandering Performance date: Monday 10th October 2022