I’ve seen James Taylor in concert about half a dozen times from the Greek Theater in Berkeley to Red Rocks above Denver. This performance at the Coors Amphitheater in the Denver Tech Center was the most relaxed I’ve seen. It is wider than either of the other venues and seemed to add greater intimacy and immediacy to his style. He has a very easy going style with audiences and a relaxed manner but I’ve never seen him so chatty with the crowd. He was cracking jokes, handling hecklers and signing autographs several times between acts and encores.
He began with a relaxed acoustic “Secret Of Life,” then was joined by the band for “Summer’s Here,” where each mention of “beer” in the lyrics brought people holding their Coors beer bottles high.
Andrea Zonn, one of his female singers is also a terrific fiddler. Her Irish tunes were delightful, especially as he performed the unexpected “The River is Wide.”
He performed two of his original pieces that were distinguished by having had Ray Charles cover them: “Nothin’ Like a Hundred Miles” and the mournful “Everybody Has the Blues.”
“Fire and Rain” seemed to be what everyone was waiting for. And “Handy Man” lit up the audience. With 8 instrumentalists and three background singers there were quite a lot on stage. The harmonies were rapturous. He improvised still more beyond his already jazzed up live versions (which you can hear on his Live album) than his studio standards.
At numerous times during the concert he joked with the audience. He talked about his “Elvis collar” that phenomena which occurs when the wind blows your collar up. At another time we couldn’t hear the question from the audience, but his reply was
“…their pitching is a little weak, but it’s still early in the season.”
When people felt compelled to call out song requests, “Mexico” came out loudest. His reply,
“We’ll get to it (holding up his blackboard). See, it’s right down here. We’ll have to get through this crap first though.”
Later, when someone was quite insistent about a song he said,
“I’m going to do this song instead. It’s really just like that song, except there are some differences, actually it’s not at all like that song. Never mind.”
When he did get to “Mexico” it he introduced his Cuban drummer who dazzled the audience. Following a 20 minute break, he pointed out that to be environmentally friendly the second half’s songs were written on the backside of his blackboard. He performed “Sonny’s Eyes” and a song he said he learned from the Dixie Chicks “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”
His horn section was terrific: Walt Fowler on trumpet and Lou “Blue Lou” Marini on sax and flute — you’d know him from the Saturday Night Live Band and The Blues Brothers.
James’ performance this time of “Carolina” used the backup singers like an a cappella church choir. I’ve never heard it so good.
He did a rather long introduction to “God Have Mercy on the Frozen Man” where he told the background to the story, then got off-track and decided to forget it. He similarly had a long intro to “Line Em Up” discussing the Nixon Whitehouse juxtaposed to the last verse relating to the marriage of 5,000 people by Rev. Moon at Madison Square Garden. He said there was so much matrimonial energy that some of it leaked outside and some people on the street were spontaneously married.
But one introduction caught the crowd by surprise.
“This is a song I wrote for my nephew… on the occasion of his birth. It’s been a number of years now. He was named after me and this was intended as a cowboy lullaby” — and now the audience has figured it out — “His grandmother is in the audience tonight.”
Could this have in fact been both the grandmother of Sweet Baby James as well as the mother of James Taylor? This performance had an an according and a steel string guitar. Lovely.
He did “Country Road” and donned his electric guitar to play “Steamroller Blues.” It turned into a jam session featuring solos by trumpet, keyboard, and guitar. He ended with “How Sweet It Is.”
The expected encore brought him back to do the old Drifters’ hit “Up On the Roof.” By now, the sky above the venue was dark. As he sang about “the stars up above” a shooting star lit the sky.
He followed this with “Summertime Blues” and left the stage, only to return with another encore and signing of autographs for the front row. A good time was had by all.