GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE — James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt deliver a night of cherished songs, friendship at Resch
By Kendra Meinert
ASHWAUBENON – James Taylor held out on “You’ve Got a Friend” until the encore of his concert with Bonnie Raitt, but it played like the night’s theme song before he ever started.
Songs so warm and lovingly worn they felt like an evening spent with old friends. Two old friends so appreciative to be back on the road together the heartfelt embraces were at times as life-affirming as the music. The music such a touchstone for a generation of old friends and lovers, you could almost see the affection wash over the audience like some glorious wave sent from 1975.
How sweet it was Saturday night at the Resch Center, where a sold-out crowd of about 8,000 basked in the happiness that comes with having Taylor turn the pages on one of music’s most beloved songbooks.
From the collective feel-good celebrations of “Shower the People” and “Your Smiling Face” to the slip-your-arm-around-your-spouse-and-give-them-a-peck-on-the-cheek moments of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Up on the Roof,” it was nearly two hours of blissful reminiscing from the iconic singer-songwriter.
It was this summer’s version of last summer’s Billy Joel concert at Lambeau Field: nostalgic escapism of the highest order by one of the greats, the ultimate baby boomer Saturday night out, an electrifying stage production worthy of the grandest concert venues — give or take about 35,000 people. The original JT (pre-Justin Timberlake) might not have the same multi-generational appeal of Joel, but his show felt just as big and just as special.
Raitt was billed as a special guest, but it was more like a double bill both in stature and fan love. It was only her second night on the tour after having to miss the first leg for undisclosed medical reasons.
Raitt, 68, and Taylor, 70, have been friends since she was 20 years old, she told the crowd. He broke with concert tradition to come out onstage to introduce her and send her off on her hour-long set with a hug. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Raitt dedicated “Rainy Day Man,” one of his songs she cut when she was 24, to Taylor for his support during “recent tough times.”
She was in fine form, effortlessly moving between genres — from roots to blues to funk — grooving from behind the keyboards on “Nick of Time.”
“This feels pretty good up here, just like a little club in Ann Arbor,” she said after “Have a Heart.”
She dedicated her stirring rendition of the John Prine gem “Angel from Montgomery” to her mother’s generation, which didn’t have all the choices women do now. It earned her a lengthy standing ovation and left her visibly moved.
Then she and her four-piece band laid into the Talking Heads cover “Burning Down the House.”
Taylor joined her for a free-wheeling joy ride on “Thing Called Love” to close her set. She would return at the end of his for the Chuck Berry classic “Johnny B. Goode” and “You Can Close Your Eyes.” If one of them was more grateful or delighted than the other to be there onstage, it was impossible to tell which.
During a collage of photos, videos and interview clips that spanned the half-century of a remarkable career to open his show, Taylor says, “I don’t present a character. I don’t present a version of myself. I present myself.”
That approach defined his concert, as he introduced nearly every song with a story, accompanied it with personal photos or slipped in an endearingly corny joke (and two f-bombs in explaining how one of his dad’s sayings inspired “First of May”).
He opened with “Carolina in My Mind” off his 1968 self-titled debut. The stage cleverly transformed to look like his childhood home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which was sold in 2016.
The staging was spectacular, with a huge video wall backdrop and five smaller panels of assorted shapes that moved in front of it for a multidimensional effect. It was stunning and sophisticated — the stuff stadium shows are made of. (It’s going to look fabulous at the 23,000-seat American Family Insurance Amphitheater in Milwaukee for a Summerfest stop on Thursday.) It quickly put to rest any worries that Taylor sitting on a stool strumming a guitar would somehow be a sleepy affair.
No chance of it, not with his 10-member All-Star Band. They turned blues parody “Steamroller Blues” into a lethal jam, including a mean trumpet solo from Walt Fowler, and unleashed an arena dance party with “Mexico.” Flanked by backing vocalists Arnold McCuller (a standout all night with both Raitt and Taylor), Kate Marcowitz and Andrea Zonn across the front of the stage, “Shed a Little Light” swelled to show-stopping Broadway number proportions.
From the joyful “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” to the poignant “Fire and Rain,” it was a night where the comfort of music won out over the weight of the world. A throwback to simpler times and a respite from the tough ones. An evening among good friends — onstage and off.