June 30, 2011 performance; by Dave Read
James Taylor and Friends was the billing for the first of the four James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood during the 2011 season. It attracted a capacity crowd to Seiji Ozawa Hall, where the audience spilled over the rise leaving some members of lawn nation with a better view of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s old place than of Mr. Taylor. Playing second fiddle to the headliner, just barely, was mother nature, who was lauded all night for delivering just the sort of setting June and the Berkshires were meant to be presented in.
We need to resist the temptation to describe Taylor’s performance as being measured, as one would expect at the outset of a run of four concerts in five days. The concert felt like a recital, which befits the venue and it’s 1,200 seats – intimate in comparison to the 5,100 seat Koussevitsky Music Shed, where the other three concerts will take place. It was a discrete event, featuring everybody’s neighbor and friend, accompanied by his longtime keyboards player and vocal quartet, augmented by wife Kim, whose birthday it was, plus a contingent from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and BSO cellist Owen Young.
Taylor is as expert with patter as he is with the songs so that an evenings’ performance coheres; without making the audience feel like anything other than peers, Taylor talks about being in the studio with Paul McCartny and George Harrison – in 1968, for heaven’s sake – that’s when for all anybody else knew, the Beatles were rearranging the universe. But James Taylor was auditioning his song “Something in the way she moves,” which not only scored him an Apple Records contract, but also inspired Harrison to write “Something,” which is on everybody’s list of best Beatles songs.
In what may be an indication that more of the audience was from away than is usually the case for a James Taylor Tanglewood concert, the Stockbridge reference in Sweet Baby James aroused not much more than a loud smattering of applause rather than the roar of recognition remembered from earlier shows.