GREENBAYPRESSGAZETTE.COM — James Taylor, Jackson Browne prove the perfect pairing for a warm, wonderful night at Resch Center
By Kendra Meinert
ASHWAUBENON – A Tuesday evening spent in the company of James Taylor and Jackson Browne was all comfort and joy — a warm embrace from a couple of old friends.
Like so many things treasured and cherished, it was made sweeter not just by the passage of time, but in particular, the times of the last two years.
If getting whisked away to “Carolina in My Mind” felt like a dreamy escape in 1976, imagine how good it sounds 2021. If there were ever days to be reminded that when nothin’, nothin’ is going right “You’ve Got a Friend,” maybe it’s during a pandemic. “Running on Empty”? Practically a national theme song these days.
It was Taylor’s third visit to the Resch Center, and his first since a sold-out show in 2018 when he brought along Bonnie Raitt. He talked about what it means to be back onstage after touring came to a halt in early 2020 when he introduced “That’s Why I’m Here.”
“The last verse of this song sort of, well, it’s really about you and how it feels to be back out on the road finally. We never knew whether or not this was going to happen at all a year ago,” Taylor told a crowd of mostly baby boomers who nearly filled the arena. “People have been really patient. Thanks for coming out tonight and letting us play. It means the world to us.”
Whether singing or telling stories or telling jokes about horse-drawn guitars, there’s something soothing, a calmness, about James Taylor, dressed in his plain tans and grays and a newsboy cap, on a stool with a guitar in hand. Everything outside the beam of the spotlight just melts away.
His performance of “Sweet Baby James” was as poetic as the story he told of writing the lullaby on on his way to North Carolina to see his newborn nephew for the first time.
“That song just kind of blew in the window,” he said.
And so it goes with Taylor. At 73, he makes it all look easy, from the beautiful “Country Road” to open his 17-song set to a bouncy “As Easy as Rollin’ Off a Log” from 1927 off last year’s “American Standard” album to turning up the heat and strutting across the stage on “Steamroller Blues.” His marvelous 10-piece band, which includes his son, Henry, as a vocalist, was always at the ready to shine, most notably Walt Fowler on trumpet and Lou Marini on saxophone countless times and the fiddle work of Andrea Zonn on “Copperline.”
Nearly every song got an introduction from Taylor. Some were serious, like how his friend John Belushi’s death inspired the second verse of “That’s Why I’m Here” and proved to be a wake-up call for Taylor’s own recovery. He dedicated it to anyone in the audience in recovery, and then quipped, “But not to worry, we’ve still got plenty of songs for those of us who are still (expletive) up.”
Taylor tours with some of the most gorgeous staging on the road, picturesque landscapes and places that transport audiences along with the music. A large tree anchored the backdrop, as seasons, fields and woods changed behind him, a series of teardrop pendant lights moving up and down like fall leaves for one song and dancing confetti in another.
If it takes a great singer-songwriter to tour with one, there’s no more perfect match than Taylor and Browne, both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in their 70s. Browne’s 70-minute set was equally warm-hearted, thoughtful and laid back.
His voice sounded impeccable in the Resch. Even Browne noticed. “It does sound good in here,” he told the crowd, thanking his crew for their work during times when “everything is so much harder.”
He opened with a classic, “Somebody’s Baby,” and followed it up with what he called “a middle-old song,” 1996’s “Barricades of Heaven.” He dipped freely into music off his 15th studio album, “Downhill from Everywhere,” released in July. His history of social activism was fully on display in a poignant “The Dreamer,” about immigration, the effect of plastic on oceans in the title track and racial justice in “Until Justice Is Real.”
He too chatted often between songs. He made a point to mention he had friends in the crowd from Door County from his years playing Steel Bridge Songfest in Sturgeon Bay, an event founded by Green Bay native Pat mAcdonald. He seemed both touched and amused that someone had gifted him a care package backstage filled with cheese curds, chocolates and other local goodies.
“Very Wisconsin,” Browne said.
He sat at the piano for “Doctor My Eyes” and an achingly intimate “Late for the Sky.” He called out Taylor to join him in singing “The Pretender,” and the gracious headliner stuck around to sit in with the band on “Running on Empty.”
Browne would return the favor later in the night to come back out and sing “Take It Easy” with Taylor, getting one of the biggest receptions from a crowd that was generous with standing ovations all night.