THEOAKLANDPRESS.COM — James Taylor, Jackson Browne rekindle vintage summer spirit to DTE
By GARY GRAFF
Both singer-songwriters are both veterans of the venue. Taylor, in fact, was playing his 35th concert there since its 1972 opening, as the two brought their pandemic-delayed tour there on Sunday, Aug. 1. Each claimed they couldn’t recall their first appearance but guessed that certain songs — Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind,” Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” — had been played back then, as they were on Sunday.
And neither demonstrated any interest in the DTE moniker the amphitheater has held for 20 years now.
“It’s so great to be back here at, what do they call it? Pine Knob,” Taylor declared early in his set. “I know XYZ paid a lot of money to get their name on the place. I just remember it as what it was.”
Taylor and Browne certainly made Sunday’s one-two punch feel like a vintage night at the venue, no matter what you call it. Troubadours whose catalogs stretch back 50 years and straddle the line between Top 40 and Classic Rock, each came armed with potent repertoires and equally impressive bands, and with a gentle affect that fit perfectly into a sunny and slightly chilly summer evening.
They played nicely together, too, as Taylor traded lines with Browne for the latter’s “The Pretender” before Browne returned the favor during Taylor’s set for an encore rendition of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” which Browne co-wrote. There was no mention of the Eagles’ late Glenn Frey in his home town, but Browne did usher Taylor’s wife, Kim, on stage to sing backing vocals as Taylor quipped, “I knew this would happen, but I didn’t expect so soon… .”
Browne and his eight-member band, meanwhile, delivered a dizzying hour that deftly sampled his new album “Downhill From Everywhere” with the title track and “My Cleveland Heart” while hitting expected high points such as “Somebody’s Baby,” “Doctor My Eyes” and “Late for the Sky.” “Running on Empty” rocked things to a close with guitarist Val McCallum and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz re-creating the favorite’s ringing solos.
Taylor and company, an all-star outfit of its own, were characteristically sublime during their hour and 50 minutes on stage. Few songs embody the summer shed experience better than the opening “Country Road,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain,” “Carolina on My Mind” or “Shower the People,” and Taylor even has a song — “That’s Why I’m Here” — written specifically about that experience. The 73-year-old icon played them all on Sunday, the 12-piece band — its five backing singers including his 20-year-old son, Henry — nailing every nuance of the 16 songs and creating some fresh dynamics thanks to drummer Steve Gadd and guitarist Michael Landau.
Like Browne, Taylor — sporting a white shirt, gray slacks and a cap — expressed great happiness to be back onstage and appreciation to the nearly sold-out DTE crowd for coming to the rescheduled date. “It’s so great, after waiting a year and a half, two years in some places, to finally come back and be on the road and be together again and play for y’all,” he noted early on. The show gave him a belated chance to play something (“As Easy as Rolling Off a Log”) from his 2020 “American Standard” album, and he populated the set with other favorites such as “Copperline,” “Mexico” and his version of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
The only flat moment was the bluesy “Chili Dog,” an outlier that came off as a gratuitous attempt to throw some rocking spirit into a show that really didn’t require it.
Taylor signed off with his classic version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” a friendly nod to both the crowd and a slate to a venue that means a great deal to his, Browne’s, well-decorated careers.