June 10, 2010 | « back

THE WASHINGTON POST – Carole King and James Taylor make beautiful music at Verizon Center

By Dave McKenna

DuPont’s best and brightest couldn’t produce better chemistry in a lab than what James Taylor and Carole King come up with onstage.

They’re hardly alike. Appearing together at Verizon Center on Tuesday, King, now 68, was raucous beyond belief, while Taylor, at 62, exuded superhuman serenity. Fire and rain, one might say.

The old friends are touring to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first show together, a gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. The singers are backed on the road by, as Taylor put it, all “the original cats” that appeared with them in 1969 in L.A. — a supergroup including Leland Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and Danny Kortchmar on guitar.

To kick off the nearly 2 1/2 -hour retrospective performance, Taylor sang “Something in the Way She Moves.” That’s a fabulously appropriate set opener and hinted that their respective ties to the Beatles had helped bring Taylor and King together all those years ago. Taylor originally recorded that song for his 1968 debut LP shortly after the Fabs made him the first non-British act signed to their Apple Records. (He repaid the biggest band in the universe for their kindness by letting them cop his lyrics to open George Harrison’s “Something.”)

And years before launching Taylor’s career, the Beatles recorded “Chains,” which King had written with former husband Gerry Goffin during her days as a hitmaking machine in the Brill Building era.

On Tuesday night, King, in a rare mellow moment, offered up “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” her chronicle of young romance and all the vulnerability that goes with it, and one of the most beautiful pop songs of all time. The Beatles played that tune live in the days before coming across the pond. The cracks in King’s voice that have come with age only made the song more devastatingly great.

Taylor reminded folks of his supreme melody-making gifts and otherworldly niceness with enduring radio staples “Fire and Rain,” “Sweet Baby James” and “Carolina in My Mind,” the latter also dating back to his Apple debut. They dueted magically on songs that King wrote and Taylor recorded soft-core versions of long ago: “Up on the Roof” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” The commercial success that he found with his hyper-introspective material and other similarly low-volume singles opened doors for a lot of singer-songwriters who lacked his chops, and, for better or worse, made Taylor as responsible as anybody for taking the oomph out of pop radio for so much of the 1970s.

King, however, remains very much able to bring out the oomph. For “I Feel the Earth Move,” she got out from behind her grand piano to shimmy and kick all over the in-the-round stage. “This is my day job!” she screamed when she was done dancing.

And the night’s highlight came when she turned her glorious and soulful “Natural Woman” into a power ballad. The tune ended with much of the sellout crowd on its feet and following her lead in singing a rowdy chorus of “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Much as a famous pop band once did.

McKenna is a freelance writer.