I’ve seen James Taylor perform perhaps a dozen times over the last 43 years in venues large and small. While I’ve previously seen him at the Broadmoor World Arena, it was back when it was just the World Arena, an ice rink in Colorado used for lots of performers.
At this smallish venue, I’ve seen Jim Gaffigan, Garrison Kieler and his Prairie Home Companion, and even the Eagles — who were clearly given poor directions to the big city of Denver, where they usually perform.
I’ve previously written about James Taylor’s live concerts:
He usually, but not always, gives an introduction to his songs before (or after) he plays them. You may get more of the backstory to the songs in the articles above than he supplied at this concert.
What is it about James Taylor?
Why do I keep going back to see James Taylor whenever he’s in town? It’s too easy to say it’s nostalgia. Instead, it would be more accurate to say
he plays the soundtrack of my youth.
I listened to him in college, first seeing him perform in 1979 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.
Sure, he’s a 7-time Grammy Award winner; he has honorary doctorates from half a dozen music schools and won the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015) and the Kennedy Center Honors (2016).
But in addition to the affecting music he has written, his lyrics speak with an emotional vocabulary that connects with me. He knows the big cities of Massachusetts and the small town of Morgan Creek, North Carolina, where he came of age. Listen to his song Copperline; it reminds me of the small town I grew up in rural northern California.
James Taylor is 74, and listening to him is still a joy. If he couldn’t hit all the notes, nobody cared. He may have leaned a bit more on his accompanists, “a holy host of others,” than usual. There was more emphasis on instrumental solos, featuring a truly remarkable band: James Taylor & His All-Star Band. The background to the stage was an animated tableau, changing for each song, and it worked. It was a wholly enjoyable, smile-out-loud concert.
Concert Setlist and Commentary
The venue of the Broadmoor World Arena is not as large as the Pepsi Center (now Ball Arena) in Denver, nor as intimate as Red Rocks outside of Denver, which he often attests is his favorite venue.
“This is a cover of a Buddy Holly song that we covered, oh, back in 1803.”
“This is a landscape painting of where I grew up.”
And sure enough, the background screen shows it.
“Thanks for coming. I had already kind of promised to be here, but you… This is the first tour since COVID. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went away. It’s great to play live music for live people.”
That’s Why I’m Here
“This song was inspired by the death of my friend John Belushi. I pinpoint my recovery from addiction to that event. The 2nd verse is the first one I wrote. Then I wrote the first verse, then I wrote a better first verse.”
He introduced all his band members at various points throughout the concert, but someone had to remind him of one he missed:
“Oh, how could I have forgotten my own son!”
His son came over and hugged him and whispered something in his ear.
- 2 percussion/drums
- 2 horns
- 2 guitars
- 2 keyboardist
- 5 vocalists
- 1 air pipe/horn synthesizer (think: Stevie Wonder)
His next song was particularly kinetic and without introduction:
He introduced it as “the coming of Winter, the Fall of the year.”
You Make it Easy (for a Man to Fall)
He introduced it as if he were in context:
“Speaking of marital infidelity, this takes place as a dimly lit smoky place at 2 AM, when we make our best decisions when we’re seeing the larger perspective.”
Easy as Rollin’ Off a Log
“I used to listen to American standards when I was a kid. It took 3 years on this album of Standards; you know them all. This is a song you don’t know. It was based on a 1927 cartoon called Katnip Kollege about college kids who are cats.
God Have Mercy on the Frozen Man
“This is another non-hit. Saw it in National Geographic. I didn’t actually read the article; I saw the pictures, read the captions, and pieced them together. This was a man frozen for over 100 years. Back in the 1800s, some English sailors were looking for a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada. A terrible idea, even today. They all died, I’m sorry to say.”
Someone cheered when he strapped on his turquoise-painted guitar.
“Isn’t this a great guitar? It’s so much better than the gas and steam-powered guitars. We were in Pennsylvania recently, and it’s remarkable how many horse-drawn guitars are still in service. The old jokes are the best, aren’t they?
“I’m a cement mixer
A churning urn of burning funk.”
This was a real crowdpleaser. It was sassy, smoke-filled jazz: with a muted trumpet, dazzling keyboard burning like a house on fire (James tried to beat it out with his hat), guitar licks that make you think you’re cleared for take-off, drum solo that brought down the house and made me laugh out loud.
Before he took a break, he picked up his setlist placard and showed us the list from the first half of the show.
“Here’s the list of usual nonsense; the second set is perfectly adequate. How do you like this setlist? It looks like it was written on roofing material. Strong, flexible, kind of like my women.”
Sun On the Moon
“In line, in line, it’s all in line,
“My ducks are all in a row.”
The music was gospel-like, with a Jamaican movement.
— BREAK —
Caroline I See You
“Meet me in the middle,
make it melt like chocolate,
be my little baby.”
Secret o’ Life
The background projection was of black and white scenes of traffic
“Now we’ll play some songs in a row. That’s how we do it; if we played them all at the same time…”
You’ve Got A Friend
Up on the Roof
Sweet Baby James
This third song started with a long Irish fiddle, joined by drums.
You didn’t know where it was going, kind of like at an Eagles concert where there is a long horn or acoustic introduction to Hotel California. This time, it was an intro to my favorite song of his that never fails to make me wistful.
“This song (Sweet Baby James) was for my nephew. My brother was the first of our generation to have a child. They named him after me in a lapse in judgment. So I had to write a song for him.”
Behind him, as he played, were scenes from the pop-up book with lyrics he published a few years ago of his cowboy lullaby.
You Are My Only One
“Here’s a live song for you now.”
Going to Carolina
The scene behind him changed from Spring through Summer and Fall and ended with snow falling on the ground in Winter.
Shed A Little Light
“Oh, let us turn our hearts today to Martin Luther King.”
Your Smiling Face
And he was done. He’d played everything we thought he would play and the band left the stage. We were ready to go home, but no one left. They waited for several minutes, turning on the “flashlight” of their phones. When he returned to the stage, the crowd went crazy.
Fire and Rain
I did not wait until the end of the encore, but he usually ends with:
You Can Close Your Eyes
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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