Bournemouth International Centre
5th October 2014
Something In The Way She Moves
Today, Today, Today
Lo & Behold
Carolina In My mind
One More Go Round
Sweet Baby James
Stretch of the Highway
You and I Again
Hour That The Morning Comes
Fire and Rain
Up On The Roof
Your Smiling Face
How Sweet It Is
You’ve Got A Friend
Wild Mountain Thyme
His Legendary Band:
Steve Gadd – drums
Michael Landau – electric guitar
Jimmy Johnson – bass
Larry Goldings – keyboards, accordion
Andrea Zonn – fiddle, vocals
Kate Markowitz – vocals
My last James Taylor concert was a disaster. I walked into a record shop on the Tuesday and said to the owner, ‘I expect I’ll see you at James Taylor tonight.’
‘But he’s only doing one night.’
‘Tonight. I know.’
‘You don’t. It was last night. He was fantastic.’
Wrong date written on the calendar, two very expensive tickets wasted.
The one before was sublime though. Same venue. Perfect sound. These things need advance planning … I noticed my ticket receipt is dated December 2013. I did the James Taylor “Toppermost” (http://www.toppermost.co.uk/james-taylor/) There is so much to choose from. It’s hard to guess the set list, though I cheated and looked up the previous shows on the tour.
Walking along the cliff top to Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), I pass four tour buses and two trucks. No wonder His Legendary Band keep with him … it looks like a comfortable way to travel. The UK is a seven piece band (see above), so minus two horns, percussion and one vocalist from the band listed on his website. It’s an all star band too. Before the show started, exactly on time, they played The Band’s Ophelia over the PA. There are very few drummers who can follow that, but Steve Gadd is for me the greatest living rock drummer, as he proved tonight. Subtle, or excited. Quiet or loud. He can play it all. Michael Landau, Larry Goldings and Jimmy Johnson stood out last time too. The addition of Andrea Zorn on fiddle and vocals was important (especially for the new songs), but in 2014 everyone has violin.
The sound was perfect again. Every instrument clear and separate. The bass guitar that so many tours reduce to dull thuds was clear and articulate. You could hear every word James Taylor was singing. I’ve mentioned many times how many bands have trouble in this hall … in the last year CSN and Rodriguez both had dire sound. James Taylor gets it right every time. Add Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, k.d. lang. They all got great sound here. Notably, none were loud.
The last sets of new materials, Hourglass and October Road date from 1997 and 2002, and he played nothing from them, though I notice Raised Up Family replaced Hour That The Morning Comes on some setlists from this tour. They’re actually two of my three favourite James Taylor albums, along with Sweet Baby James which got five songs in the setlist tonight. While doing the fine Covers album and the first rate Live At The Troubadour (with Carole King) there’s been no album of new material for a dozen years. There isn’t one yet, but from earlier reviews I knew we were in for three new songs, and I was eager to hear them.
The first half begins with Something In The Way She Moves, the song that won him the Apple audition when he played it in front of Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968. No pressure there, then. George also borrowed the title to begin his own Something, as James pointed out.
The first of the new songs Today, Today, Today followed, a great country style number with prominent fiddle playing.
James has been reviewing his back catalogue and selecting some different material … a wise choice as he has done such good live albums and DVDs in the past. So we got Lo and Behold from Sweet Baby James followed by two he didn’t write, the traditional song Wandering (it was on Gorilla) and Everyday which he did as a single. One of the better Buddy Holly covers in a wide and strong field.
At this point the lighting plot changed. Overall, I think this is the best lit rock show I’ve seen. They had a series of mesh towers with mobile lights mounted on top, then an array of light bulbs … traditional looking light bulbs … in large blocks overhead. These are LED bulbs … they can be switched to different colours and constantly shifted. Early on the towers had abstract patterns projected on them, starting off like skyscrapers. In Country Road, again from Sweet Baby James, the lighting plot switched to panoramic video film projection, picking up across the spaced towers. Country Road had … well, you guess. The videos changed with every song … some reverted to abstract patterns. The choices were beautiful as well as often witty. There was also a bank of lights over the audience that could be lit up, and lights mounted facing up and out that could be used. The set design and lighting design were state-of-the-art. I spent three summers of my youth in the BIC’s predecessor, the Winter Gardens, a few hundred yards up the hill and long demolished. The lighting plot absorbed this ex-lighting guy! Fabulous work.
I’m not forgetting the music. James Taylor spoke more than last time, and was incredibly relaxed with the audience. He made this large hall feel intimate, and the self-deprecating story about Millworker, written for a Broadway play that went dark after three nights, was excellent. The song was on Flag, one of the obscurer albums, though it has been on live albums and compilations since. It’s one of his best narratives, like all great folk singers, he easily switches gender and sings from a female point of view.
Then it was back to the Apple album and Carolina On My Mind – complete with video projections of Carolina mountains and maps. One More Go Round followed from New Moon Shine so the most recent song of his old catalogue tonight, and that’s twenty-three years old. He said it wasn’t much of a lyric. No matter. It rocks, though I would prefer either Copperline or The Frozen Man from that record, which are great lyrics.
Sweet Baby James got a long intro (as it did on Live At The Troubadour) but the audience cheered when he announced that the drive south to see his new nephew was in a car he’d brought from England … a Cortina GT.
Shower The People closed the first set, notable both for some lovely intricate guitar from James and a soulful vocal addition from Arnold McCullers.
James Taylor, bottom left, still signing as the band start “Stretch of The Highway”
To my amazement, the band went off for twenty minutes, while James Taylor sat down on the edge of the stage and signed autographs non-stop for the entire interval. When the interval ended, he continued. The band came on, the lights went up and they started playing the instrumental backing to the first song. After a couple of minutes, Andrea Zorn and Kate Markowitz went and pulled him up, and he started singing Stretch On The Highway.
Let’s hope that means the new album is imminent. A really memorable new song, followed immediately by another, You and I which was a love song with a touch of reincarnation, as he announced. He must have been reading Ferney by James Long. Actually, I found the song both beautiful and truly moving too.
Hour that Morning Comes rocked it up again, and is another from the obscurer end of his huge list of compositions, this time from Dad Loves His Work. Handy Man had us back on more familiar ground, because it’s much compiled and played live, though again, JT isn’t one of the first of his albums to spring to mind. If I was doing a quiz show and someone asked ‘Name six James Taylor albums’ I’d be searching my mind for a long time before I hit Dad Loves His Work, Flag, JT, or Gorilla. But that’s the point of new tours.
Steamroller has been the “round the band” live party piece for years. James strapped on a light blue Telecaster, and did the song as a part send up of blues vocalists and was very funny. But we still got Michael Landau doing an incredible guitar solo, and Larry Golding doing a marvellous organ solo. I think it was this song that had a James Taylor harmonica solo too.
Only One is from That’s Why I’m Here (1985), another one of the lesser-known albums and a surprise in the set. The earworm chorus with backing vocals is remarkably like Marshall Crenshawe’s My Favourite Waste of Time. Owen Paul had a major British hit with it in 1986. Again Only One would not be a song that sprang to my mind, but I can see why it’s been pulled out of the past. The vocal backing lifted it and it REALLY is an earworm. When you come out of a concert, one song plays all night in your head. It’s Only One for tonight. That’s boosted by the fact that one of our videos used My Favourite Waste of Time in an instrumental version as its signature music, and that was one where I attended the edit, so I really know it.
We’re into the better-known songs now, and none I better known than Fire and Rain. I found myself focussing on Steve Gadd, going from subtle quiet accents to the explosive round the kit stuff the song needs. I’ve said it for years. He is such a great drummer to watch as well as to listen to. The drums stage positioning, stage left of the vocals is becoming the standard positioning … again. Levon Helm placed himself there for years. In fact, they positioned the whole band somewhat stage right on this very wide stage, leaving light-projection towers with no one in front of them stage left (so left of Steve Gadd). It implies to me the stage design allowed space for that missing horn section.
Up On The Roof found the video projection back to skyscraper effects. His version is effortlessly mellow. He invited the audience onto their feet for Mexico and that’s where they stayed, packed close to the stage right through Your Smiling Face (also from JT but a live favourite). It works well as an ender, seamlessly carrying on the upbeat feel of Mexico.
How Sweet It Is – film projected on the mesh panels
The encores began with a long How Sweet It Is, the third selection from Gorilla. I’d always been a bit sniffy about his version … I’m a huge Marvin Gaye and a huge Junior Walker fan … but this was so feelgood, I was totally convinced. It had a “part two” as well with Arnold McCullers singing the lead.
There was a pantomime of pulling the band back on for You’ve Got A Friend, with radically new backing vocals AND he worked Bournemouth into the lyric. Finally, James and the three singers combined for Wild Mountain Thyme, one of my favourite folk songs, and rightly he said he found it in Belfast, but it was of Scots origin. Good topical quickie about Scotland being “still part of the country.”
So, as last time, a show of the highest quality. I’ll be very surprised if anything beats this to my “best show of 2014” choice.