April 25, 2019 | « back

LAS VEGAS SUN — With 12 shows at Caesars Palace, James Taylor is ready to be surprised by Las Vegas

By Brock Radke

The Colosseum at Caesars Palace has built a reputation on bringing in many of the world’s most popular musicians — legacy acts — for extended residencies or limited engagements that offer fans a supremely intimate way to see these stars and listen to their iconic music.

Having sold more than 100 million albums, winning multiple Grammy Awards and being inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame, James Taylor certainly falls into this legacy act category, but he hasn’t played a series of shows in Las Vegas until now. In fact, the 71-year-old singer and songwriter hasn’t really played a series of Las Vegas-style shows anywhere.

“This is going to be an unusual thing for me, to stay in one place. I’m usually gone by midnight and on to the next,” he says of his 12-show Colosseum run, opening Wednesday, April 17. “The first time I played Las Vegas was at the university’s field house, the big basketball center [Thomas & Mack], and I think the last place was MGM Grand. Occasionally I’ve come out to do a separate [corporate or private] thing but it’s always very brief there. I’ve never had the chance to stick around and check the place out.”

Taylor is excited to finally check out Las Vegas but also fully focused on his performances. Here’s the rest of my conversation with the pop, rock and folk music favorite.

Has Vegas been after you to do this for a while? We’ve been in discussions for a while, it just took a while as things often do. I’m glad I finally got the right partner in Caesars in this theater. This is an age of sort of intense communication with my audience because of social media, and I’m getting word people are coming from Italy, from Brazil, from Iceland and other places. It’s a great opportunity and I think people also want to come and see what Las Vegas is all about.

Does playing this many shows in a few weeks give you an opportunity to experiment and really change things up from night to night? We’ve been looking at having a few spaces in the set where we can change things up, exactly that. But make no mistake, this type of performance is not like jazz improvisation where I call out what we’re doing after we get onstage and no song is ever the same. Our priority is to present this material in a way that gives the audience the best possible experience. What that has come to mean for me is basically perfecting the set and building in some dynamics that give it some relief and essentially makes for an evening of theater. And we back it up with the audio and visual stuff we’ve been perfecting for years. We will hope for some spontaneity and a lot of that comes from the audience, but at the same time, our framework is something we pay a lot of attention to.

Las Vegas is certainly a greatest-hits type of city. At this stage of your career, how do you balance the songs you know fans want to hear with the songs you want to play? It’s a definite phenomenon. You do feel, coming to a residency like this, that there’s an element of retrospective in it where you want to sort of present the thing as a personal history. In general, from touring, you get the sense the audience comes to hear a couple dozen songs that define James Taylor music to them and we do build the show with those songs. If you’ve got greatest hits to play, you definitely play them, and that’s how it goes. And then there are songs we do that may not be well-known but we know they work really well live, and that makes up another third of the show. And there are things we like to play that are just great for us and that’s another bag.

Have expectations like those influenced your writing over the years? My songwriting has always been something I have so little control over. It seems to be something I channel, that sometimes I can summon, but I can’t direct it. I’m happy for whatever seems to be generated or what comes through. I remember starting out without an audience at all, with no idea of who the songs were directed toward, and just basically writing them for myself. But as things picked up, it creeps upstream in the process where you start to think about how people are going to react and what kind of effect it’s going to have. I find that’s not really helpful. It’s always best for me to be as surprised as the audience and that’s what I’m looking for.

Since you haven’t had much downtime in Las Vegas, have you made plans to see certain things or go certain places? No. I’m completely focused on preparing for the performance and I haven’t thought at all about downtime or time off. I’ll try to find a good gym so I can work out and stay fit. But I’m completely wide open. I have no idea what to expect.