CONCERT REVIEW: JAMES TAYLOR AND CAROLE KING TROUBADOUR REUNION IN DENVER
Peanut Butter and Chocolate…
Two great tastes in music came together for the Troubadour Reunion tour, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first time performing together at The Troubadour Club in Los Angeles originally in 1970. The reunion concert was held at the Troubadour itself in November of 2007. A CD/DVD album was produced from this event, that contains a subset of the tour playlist. The reunion tour was announced in November of 2009 and began the following March in Australia. Over 50 international dates were scheduled and the tour ends next week in Anaheim. USA TODAY considers it one of the top 5 concerts of this summer. It’s the top-selling ticket event in history, beating the Super Bowl, in terms of secondary ticket sales. I’ve been going to James Taylor concerts for over 30 years. I’ve seen three concerts so far this year, this was the best. Wednesday night it came to Denver’s Pepsi Center.
I got my tickets three seconds after they went on pre-sale and got seats in the second row off the floor, about 75 feet from the stage. This tour is a bit unique, trying to pattern the stage in an intimate setting, in the round in the center of the auditorium. As the stage rotated, I had great seats at least half the time, and there was a wide-screen TV on the backside of the stage. But we were so close that the view was better than what appeared on the circle of Jumbotron displays above the stage. Surrounding the stage were VIP stage seats with tables and chairs which funded the favorite charities of Taylor and King.
As the band took to the stage and with a guitar lead-in, photos from their youth appeared on the Jumbotron monitors, James Taylor and Carole King entered to a standing ovation and no other introduction as JT dressed in a suit played:
- Something In The Way She Moves
If this title sounds familiar, it is because it subsequently provided the introductory line in George Harrison’s “Something.” JT had originally wanted to title this song “I Feel Fine” after the lyric in his song “quite a long long time and I feel fine,” but The Beatles had already taken that title.
As JT sang this song in Denver, Carole King added great harmonies.
They switched as Carole King started up:
- So Far Away
It was rendered very simply, with just bass accompaniment.
The rest of the backup joined, and JT introduced the band:
Hello Denver thanks for coming out, it wouldn’t be the same without you. We go through the motions but it’s not the same. We’ve got with us the original band from 1970-something…
Leland Sklar on Bass. He appeared out of the woods, don’t offer him food or have direct eye contact with him…
Russ Kunkel on Drums. He can hit things and make music. What he did on “Fire and Rain” with brushes in studio…
Danny Kortchmar on Electric Guitar. I’ve known him since he was knee high to turnip green, introduced me to Carole, and was in the band Flying Machine with me.
We’re going to do now one of Danny’s songs:
- Machine Gun Kelley
JT then continued:
Back last November when we were putting this tour together we tried to figure out the original set from 1903 (sic)
We played everything we had and this was probably in it…
- Carolina In My Mind
This was one of his earliest hits and it appeared on his debut eponymous album in 1968 which he recorded for Apple Records, the record label of The Beatles. He had written it in London as he was homesick. The lyric “holy host of others standing around me” is a reference to The Beatles who were recording The White Album at the same time and studio, and accompaniment by Paul McCartney and George Harrison on the track.
This is one of his most affecting and heart-tugging songs and has become the unofficial song of both the State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When I saw him perform this song at Red Rocks accompanied by visuals, I wanted to go to Carolina in my mind.
As JT performed this Wednesday night, he had great backing singers, who after they finished this song all left the stage, all but one.
Carole King starts up, with Kate Markowitz doing backing vocals on
- Way over Yonder
Carole’s voice is right on, for this modern spiritual. Originally this song was on her Tapestry album, released in 1971 and was #1 on the charts for 15 consecutive weeks. The album has sold over 25 million copies worldwide, winning 4 Grammy Awards. James Taylor had encouraged Carole to sing her own songs. For Tapestry, She holds the record for the longest time for an album by a female to remain on the charts and the longest time for an album by a female to hold the #1 position.
Carole then introduced keyboardist Robbie Kondor, as she took up her guitar for…
- Smack Water Jack
JT took up the lead with
- Walking on County Road
As is his habit in live concerts, he goes funk and Carole brought the crowd to their feet to clap. “You can feel it” hands go up.
Carole then continued with
I co-wrote this with Ms. Toni Stern
- Sweet Seasons
JT picked it up with one of my favorites, a later hit that really moves:
Carole told us:
I’ve been a fan of James Taylor since I met him in 1970. I wrote this following song by myself that sounded like one he was writing. Listen to them both, it’s spooky
- Sing a Song of Long Ago
that began with “Whispering wind.”
James then sang a hauntingly similar
- Long Ago (And Far Away)
with lyrics of “long ago sailing ships and Sunday afternoons”
JT then told us:
The next two are hymns for agnostics, spiritual, yet non-assigned. They help you get up and put one foot in front of the other.
- Get Up Every Morning
Carole left the keyboard to join the choir of three backing singers for the second hymn:
- Shower the People
When it went into acapella mode, it was like a revival, the crowd clapped, but when
Arnold McCuller— who has been with JT for 30 years — then went gospel, the crowd came unglued. After the standing ovation, JT said:
That was good… too good.
Andrea Zonn was introduced on violin and then Carole took the microphone to sing
- Natural Woman
At least half the audience sang along as she riffed with the lead guitarist. She brought down the house and then continued
Were going to take a 15 min break. Well be back and hope you will too.
During the interval, the Jumbotrons showed “Intermission” reels from the Drive-in movies of the ’60s, including the famous dancing hot dog from the movie Grease.
The band and the leads returned from the break. JT was in his usual relaxed jeans, short sleeves, and now a riding cap. He did a long musical intro to
Another song about North Carolina, redolent with smells and memories so thick you have to brush them away like flies.
This song was accompanied by both fiddle and accordion. This was nostalgia on steroids.
As JT and Carol got side by side, he said
A number of songs Carole’s written, I’ve covered. And many of the songs I’ve sung, it turns out that Carole wrote them. Here’s one originally recorded by The Everly Brothers. I recorded with Art Garfunkel. And it turns out Carole wrote it.
- I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain
Such beautiful harmonies between the two of them.
We started putting this tour together back in November. First set list was 6 hrs long (the crowd cheers approval and encouragement.) It had to be shortened, and it was an emotionally wrenching experience removing song. Taking them out was like dropping your kids off at camp.
As people shout out requests, JT continued
This was requested by Denver.
And it was. He did a web poll on his website before the concert came to Denver
Green fields and rolling hills…
- Been to Canaan
JT told us
Gonna do a cowboy lullaby. When I wrote this I’d been abroad for a year. That never sounds right. I’d been traveling overseaw.
He’d been recording in England and was driving down to North Carolina as he describes his brother And his wife having a kid while he was away.
In a moment of relaxed judgment they named him after me. It’s a cowboy lullaby that might have been sung by Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. Lights out in the bunk house. Go to sleep ya little buckaroo.
- Sweet Baby James
This is my favorite song by JT, telling of the past with the cowboys, the present of a drive from Western Massachusetts, and the visionary picture of the highway, the sea, and the sky. Textures and colors of deep greens and blues. When Carole added the harmonies, it pulled at my heart. When JT performed this song a few years ago at Coors Amphitheater, he mentioned that the grandmother of Sweet Baby James was in the audience. Could this have in fact been both the grandmother of his nephew as well as his own mother Gertrude Taylor?
Next came a very slow entrance to a song that is not on the Troubadour Reunion album, but welcomed famously
For this performance, the wailing sax was replaced by the electric guitar. Though it was good, the saxophonist was missed. Even Lisa Simpson would have done.
Carole continued by telling us
Back in 1960 I was a struggling song writer. I had a hit with (the girls group) The Shirelles. It was recorded 10 years later with James Taylor.
- Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
When JT sang his long, low, soulful harmony, it was heart-melting, bringing applause. They hugged after the song and the room came to their feet.
- Your Smiling Face
This was a huge crowd pleaser by JT.
- Too Late Baby
Carole did some nice instrumental jamming in the middle that brought a well-deserved ovation.
- Fire and Rain
This introspective ballad once hit #3 on the charts. A mournful song about depression, his time in mental institutions, and a friend’s suicide tell about the crash of his early band The Flying Machine. This hit song for JT had Russ Kunkel doing his innovative brushes on drum. He took a bow to another standing ovation.
Carole then continued with
- I Feel the Earth Move
Most of the ladies came to their feet, as the Jumbotron showed videos of ladies in old dancing movies. This too got an ovation.
JT took up a running gag he used throughout the concert as he showed obvious gratitude for Carole King when he introduced the next song with
And then she wrote…
- You’ve Got a Friend
JT often explains in his own concerts that it was her great generosity to let him release this song she wrote before she herself did on her own Tapestry album. Both won Grammy Awards in 1971 for the song.
On the first chorus, she sang harmony. On the second verse, she led and JT did harmony.
For the last verse, Carole sang
Here we are in Denver
For a night to remember
We’re so glad we came
Hope you feel the same
There was, of course, a standing ovation as they left the stage.
Not unexpectedly, there was an encore. JT introduced it with
And then she wrote…
- Up On The Roof
As he often does in his own concerts, when he sings “Up on my roof” he begins to hop onstage.
But Carole’s style is different, almost in a minor key. They switch between arrangements.
And the stars at night put on a show for free
As the Jumbotron shows a starfield. But JT resumes his style with
I keep on telling you that right smack dab in the middle of my town
I’ve found a paradise that’s just about trouble proof
I laughed out loud it was so good! This song was worth the ticket price alone. I remember when JT did this on the Sesame Street TV show. This song Carole originally wrote in 1962 for The Drifters. Catch the line
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
- How Sweet It Is
The hits just kept on coming. Carole shared
In case you haven’t noticed we’re really, really, really glad to be here. It’s like a magic carpet ride through Denver.
Lest the audience think this was the end, They each raised a single finger suggesting just one more.
They closed with this lullaby, as Carole sang the most wonderful harmonies. Though once harmonized by his first wife Carly Simon, Carole King was every bit as good, looking into his eyes with admiration and respect and at the end laid her head on his shoulder.
- You Can Close Your Eyes
These two iconic singer-songwriters, whose powers remain undiminished by the years, each has been strumming our heartstrings for decades.
Thank you Denver.
They closed with a kiss and embrace.
It is rare to see performers with such sincere affection for each other who seemed to enjoy being with me as much as I enjoyed being with them.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate…
Carole King’s piano added depth to James Taylor’s vocals, and his guitar contributed percussive accents to her lyrics. His trademark plucking style, rhythmic strumming, and fretboard hammering have inspired so many budding guitarists. Her deep lyrics and his soaring vocals. You’ve heard it said that the movie is not as good as the book? The Troubadour Reunion Tour album was not as good as the concert. Many artists of this age just can’t do it anymore. These two can, with a polished and delicious concert.
How Sweet It Is.
UPDATE: YouTube has an interview with James Taylor and Carole King from Denver here.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culturevulture