FORBES — James Taylor Showers The People With Love At Hollywood Bowl Show
By Steve Baltin
During the second of his two sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl singer/songwriter icon James Taylor did everything right to keep the collective eyes of the 17,500 adoring fans on the stage. He was backed by a superb band, one that he called “The finest group of musicians ever assembled”; he danced during multiple songs, with opener Sheryl Crow in “Mockingbird” and during a show-stopping “Mexico,” and he displayed home movies, like ones of his dog during “Sunny Skies,” prompting the self-effacing and very funny Taylor to call out the fact there was nothing they wouldn’t do to please an audience.
It was a brilliant show from a masterful performer. And yet many of the best parts of the two-hour performance were spent focused not on the stage, but on the audience. The people watching at a Taylor show is some of the most compelling part of the story, whether it was the guy a few seats away from me reverentially closing his eyes singing along to every song, wiping his eyes during “Sweet Baby James,” or the mother and daughter behind me, the mom crying during “Fire And Rain” and “You’ve Got A Friend,” the daughter smiling as she rubbed her mom’s back.
I remember years ago watching a Taylor concert on PBS and smiling as the camera panned over the audience, at least 50 percent, if not more, in tears as Taylor sang “Fire And Rain.” It’s understandable; the song still has that effect on me, as it did last night.
If forced to pick a favorite song ever, I’d go with “Fire And Rain,” and that’s been my answer for years, through countless life changes. And what’s remarkable is how the song stays relevant and meaningful through all of those changes, from first hearing it as a kid and thinking you’ll never see close friends and loved ones again as they move away or you drift apart to hearing it as an adult and thinking of friends who’ve passed away or mortality as you hear it and think of dying family members.
Watching the show last night, it was clear that as much as I might feel the song is the soundtrack to my life there are millions who feel the same about “Fire And Rain.” But for others it might be “Sweet Baby James,” “Carolina On My Mind” or “Shower The People.”
Though I’d argue Bruce Springsteen has the strongest bond of any artist with his fan base, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone whose audience feels a deeper connection with the songs than Taylor’s fans do. Once on the cover of Time magazine, in 1971, as the face of the singer/songwriter movement with a caption that read “The new rock: bittersweet and low,” Taylor has, at times, faced a backlash over the emotion in his music and maybe it is way too sentimental for fans who want to be cynically cool.
It is definitely uncool to share your feelings as Taylor advises to do in “Shower The People,” where he sings, “Just shower the people you love with love/Show them the way that you feel.” But that unbridled optimism and sentimentality have also created an almost 50-year career for Taylor, who has never gone out of style with his millions of fans or the artists who love him, like opener Crow.
Filling in stunningly for the injured Bonnie Raitt, Crow, who delivered her own string of hits like “Strong Enough” and “My Favorite Mistake” with a joyful and stellar precision, spoke numerous times about her love and admiration for Taylor, who she called one of her musical heroes.
The adoring throng last night related completely. Taylor is a hero to them, as obvious from the countless shouts of “I love you” and more from the crowd, including one guy who asked, “When do you go back to heaven?” But more than a hero, he is a friend, someone who makes his audience feel like he has been with them throughout their journey. Whether it’s an author, a filmmaker, actor, painter or musician, creating that kind of connection with any fan, let alone millions of them, is the mark of a great artist.