James Taylor has become his generation’s Frank Sinatra. While that probably wouldn’t have been considered a compliment 35 years ago, it definitely is today. He is a very entertaining performer.
Back when Sweet Baby James burst onto the scene with “Fire and Rain” in 1970, it wasn’t considered cool to be an “entertainer.” In fact, to be hip you basically had to be an anti-entertainer, staring down at your shoes, playing your songs with the utmost reverence and meaning, barely acknowledging the audience, pretending that you were humorless and oh so serious.
Fortunately, we all grew up and, while we like to think we can still spot a phony from way back in the lawn seats, we decided it was ok to be witty, to bask in the applause, and to actually play your songs well. We no longer accept sloppiness, even among the drunks in the audience, and we expect to get our money’s worth.
In the days when Mud Slide Slim had hair, tickets were $5.00 a seat (or less). But as ticket prices have climbed, so have our expectations. We have raised the bar, and James Taylor is one of the idols of our youth who has risen to the occasion, exceeding expectations year after year.
Friday night, JT’s local show should be better than ever. Instead of taking place out at the expansive VB Amphitheatre, he’s coming to the Ted Constant Center at ODU. If you haven’t been to a concert at the Ted, you’re in for a treat. It’s not as upclose and personal as the American or the Roper, but it’s as close an approximation as a basketball arena can get. There really aren’t any bad seats and the setup is nice, the sight lines clean, the atmosphere cordial. The sound is much better than you’re used to in coliseum-like settings.
What can we expect to hear this time around?
The Churnin’ Urn of Burnin’ Funk has already been here three times this decade, and each time he’s presented a totally different playlist. The first half of last year’s show was chock full of deep cuts from old albums, a treat for longtime fans, while the second set went heavier on the hits. Two years earlier, the concert was more of a greatest hits lovefest—“You’ve Got a Friend,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Shower the People,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Carolina in My Mind.”
Since this year’s late summer swing just started last week, there are no reports yet of what he’s playing. But with a lengthy discography and song catalog as rich as his, you can be certain he’ll cover some of your favorites, leave out a few others, and surprise you by pulling out a song or two that you haven’t heard in 25 or 30 years.
He’ll also have some longtime musical playmates onstage with him—drummer Steve Gadd, keyboard wunderkind Larry Goldings, bassist Jimmy Johnson and guitarman Michael Landau. He usually has a horn section too, though there’s no mention of them for this tour on his website. There is, however, a listing of the same smoothly harmonic four-piece backup vocal ensemble that has accompanied him for several years.
An evening with James Taylor always feels like a party at the home of an old friend. Three and a half decades after he changed the face of popular music and tapped into the inner longings of a generation, his songs still conjure up sunny days that you think, for a couple of hours at least, will never end.
copyright © 2006 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.