July 28, 2014 | « back

TORONTOSUN.COM – James Taylor pure perfection in T.O.

By Jane Stevenson

The only thing more inviting than a comfortably cool summer night in Toronto by the water is the warm, velvety sound of James Taylor’s voice.

That particular instrument really never gets old and apparently can still draw a major crowd after 40-plus years in the business given the sold-out audience at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre who turned out to hear Taylor, now 66, on Thursday night deliver a two-hour-plus show of hits and even some new songs, including one written in and about Toronto.

The so-called, “night to remember,” as referenced in the song’s lyrics, “actually happened to my percussionist,” explained Taylor, still lean and lanky, and dressed in all blue – blazer, checked shirt and denims – an outfit that nicely offset his blue eyes.

Yes, Sweet Baby James is in the middle of recording a long-awaited new album – his last one was 2008’s Covers – and chose to share a few morsels with the receptive crowd including one called Today, Today, Today and that Toronto-centric tune whose title I didn’t catch but whose lyrics include, ‘O Canada.”

Opening the show with fan favourite Something in the Way She Moves, Taylor joked it was a good concert icebreaker for him after he first performed the tune in front of Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968 before he was signed to Apple Records in his big break.

“I know I can play it when I’m nervous,” he joked.

Yes, in addition to have an impressive back catalogue and killer voice, Taylor is also funny and seems genuinely at ease on stage and with his audiences.

For example, while introducing his song, Millworker, from a Broadway musical called Working that closed after five days he kidded: “I’m afraid it didn’t (work).”

And of the intermission that separated his two sets, Taylor joked: “I’m not sure why we do this. We just stand on the other side of the curtain for 20 minutes.”

Backed by his All Star Band, which expanded to as many as 10 players including sax legend Lou Marini (The Blues Brothers), the show was big on expert musicianship, long jams, gorgeous harmonies and played out on a stage dominated by skyscraper shaped lights on either side of Taylor and a massive video screen at the back.

First set highlights from the Chapel Hill, N.C., raised singer-songwriter included the hometown and family odes Country Road, Carolina On My Mind and Sweet Baby James and his famous Carole King cover, You’ve Got A Friend, which he recalled hearing for the first time when they were both playing L.A.’s Troubadour inspiring him to learn how to play it immediately.

“I didn’t know (then) that I would be playing it every night for the rest of my life,” he said.

In the second set, the Sparks of Rhythm cover Handy Man and Taylor’s own Shower The People were glorious, thanks to the three-part harmonies of his backup singers Arnold McCuller, Kate Markowitx, and Andrea Zonn (also on fiddle), while Taylor was at his craziest, bluesiest best on Steamroller Blues.

The most poignant song of the entire night was, no surprise, Taylor’s classic, Fire and Rain, and audience participation reached its zenith as the concert came to a close with Mexico, Your Smiling Face, and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is before he ended the show with a beautiful Scottish traditional.

Just lovely from beginning to end.