February 21, 2017 | « back


By Ross McRae

James Taylor unassumingly walked on to the picturesque Leeuwin Estate stage solo, took off his familiar cap and waved to the unsuspecting audience.

“Thanks for bringing us back here to this wonderful place,” he reflected on his second time playing Leeuwin; his first in 2003.

The 68-year-old folk, rock and pop singer-songwriter, 68, then led the crowd through a 21/4-hour masterclass spanning much of the cream of his back catalogue.

“It’s all about the band. It’s the first time I’ve been able to bring the full ensemble Down Under,” he said after belting through a cover of Buddy Holly’s Everyday, a hit for Taylor in 1985.

It wasn’t all about the classics, with Taylor scattering a couple of tracks from his long-overdue 16th album, 2015’s Before This World.

“I know what you are thinking; we didn’t come here to listen to some goddamn new music … The new songs sound like the old songs so it’ll be real painless,” Taylor joked. And he was right as he went into Today Today Today that was just as timeless as anything else he had written in the 1960s or 70s.

Not only in fine voice, Taylor is a consummate storyteller which drew the audience in and created a deeper connection to the songs.

No matter how many times he might have told the stories, he made it seem like the first time, such as talking about his breakthrough smash, Carolina in My Mind, which celebrates its 50th birthday next year, where he spoke about getting signed by the Beatles’ Apple Records and recording it in London where they were making The White Album.

Taylor has a wry sense of humour, which came through most prominently when introducing Country Road from his seminal 1970 album Sweet Baby James.

“(It’s about) a theme I keep coming back to, a hippie anthem, nature as church, a spiritual connection to the planet through nature, hippie bulls…, can’t get enough of that country hippie thing.” While he didn’t want to talk politics — “It’s humiliating. I hope your government is good, we broke ours” — he ended the first act with Shed a Little Light, his gospel-esque tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

After a 20-minute intermission, Taylor returned and paid homage to one of his good friends and often collaborator Carole King, in what was the double-header highlight of the evening with Up on the Roof and You’ve Got a Friend.

“As soon as I heard it I ran to get my guitar as I had to try to it, not realising I would be playing it for every gig of my life, no exception,” he said of being there the first night King ever performed You’ve Got a Friend live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

After some classic renditions of Shower the People and Fire and Rain, Mexico got the party going with punters from the general admission running to the front of the stage, with even the corporates in black-tie rushing to join the throng worshipping at Taylor’s stage.

Energy levels stayed high for the finale, a surprisingly upbeat cover of Knock on Wood and, of course, his beloved 1975 version of Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) before finishing with an impromptu encore, thanks to the desperate pleas of the crowd.

“A totally unforgettable night, we will never forget you, you are the best,” Taylor said sincerely before ending on a “new love song” You and I Again from Before This World.