How often does an artist come to town who auditioned for Paul McCartney and George Harrison?
If your answer is never – grab a beer and go to the head of the Bell Center.
One of many tales the sixty-eight year old legend regurgitated last night in Montreal. Once upon a time, Taylor was signed as the first artist to the Beatles’ label Apple Records. That legend was front and center with a band as tight as leotards on a fat man.
‘Wandering’ from the year of our Lord 1975 merged with Secret O’ Life got the love -in started. James, acoustic guitar and that voice. An instrument that goes directly to your soul. A voice recognizable to everyone everyday. ‘Chaque jour’ as in Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’. An homage to the songwriter’s songwriter. A seamless transition to a place where Taylor came from and an indication of what type of band was providing the ‘background’ music for the evening.
If anyone stood out, it was Luis Conte.
Courtesy of a Latin percussion master, the Congas sustained a profound softness throughout the evening. A dropsheet for all of Taylor’s tunes to fall elegantly. A canvas for the works of art.
Guitarist Michael Landau, fiddler/singer Andrea Zonn, bassist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Jim Cox were the brushes. Dabbing when needed, spraying when necessary. Full strokes intermittently providing up tempo rhythms within Taylor’s catalogue of ballads. Taylor, after all these years is no dummy. His ‘All Star’ band the cream of la creme ..
Country Road introduced drummer Steve Gadd. The rousing almost Hillbilly-ish anthem raised the stakes. Gadd replacing Luis Conte with a harder beat. A harder shot. Carolina On My Mind, written during his time in England with ‘pals’ George and Paul – an ode to Carolina and his at that time homesickness. Carolina on My Mind displaying Taylor in all his beauty.
‘I Was a Fool To Care’ brought the harmony to the forefront. The entire band leaning on the singing of back- up singers Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz.
Amid the classic songs and James himself – was an invisible player. Between Walt Fowler’s inspirational trumpet and former Blues Brother and a member of the original Saturday Night Live band Lou Marini, was a musician labelled ‘ Respect’. Seldom is an audience anywhere as attentive. As quiet. As awash in pride with no prejudice.
Song after song was Taylor in his den. The fireplace was crackling. The punters at The Bell Center were close invited friends. Banter heard from the back echoing to the front. ‘Boomerang love calls’ from males and females rebounding with unequivocal love from the stage. There was no doubt. James Taylor is on par with any icon from the sixties. Including his buddies from Liverpool.
‘ Your Smiling Face’ brought smiles to The Grinch. The audience’s heart grew ten times on a night filled with nostalgia.’ Fire and Rain’ , the perfect song to dedicate to the thousands whose homes were destroyed in Alberta,was a one of a kind moment. A sing-a-long took place loud and large.
Snow Time, a song inspired by a visit to Montreal was an obvious choice as a crowd favorite while Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend along with Sweet Baby James the sentimental choices of the majority. The latter for the purists – the former for the pure love of song.
‘Magically, songs written decades ago have become signatures. Picasso doodles on show stopping napkins. The signature piece wrapped arms within arms. Kisses and hugs made the rounds. Corny – type reactions not corny at all …
‘The band’, the big bad wolf in the building, were relieved of all harnesses in the encore. ‘Knock on Wood’, ‘How Sweet It Is’ and a finale ‘ Quebecoise’
– Chanson Française
A dancehall a la Taylor. A Taylor – made finale. How sweet it was. Just ask Paul and George …
2. Secret O’ Life
4. Walking Man
5. Today Today Today
6. Country Road
7. I Was a Fool to Care
9. Carolina In My Mind
10. Up On the Roof
11. Fire and Rain
12. Shed a Little Light
14. You’ve Got a Friend
15. Promised Land
16. Shower the People
17. Angels of Fenway
18. Jolly Springtime
19. Sweet Baby James
22. Your Smiling Face
23. Knock on Wood
24. How Sweet It Is
25. Chanson Française