James Taylor’s One Man Band DVD concert Pittsfield, MA, July 19, 2007
Article by Dave Read
What’s in a name? Hints, contradictions, teases… James Taylor’s “One Man Band” Show is but a handy approximation, while Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre is so opulent “Imperial” would be a more-fitting moniker. Now, the two will forever be linked because Taylor rented the Colonial and brought in Sydney Pollack and Don Mischer to produce a DVD around two nights of sold-out concerts July 19 and 20, 2007.
We’ll surmise that Taylor aims with his current tour name to convey the image of a street musician wielding an ungainly musical contraption, such as he could’ve seen during his “magical” year in London while recording his first album for Apple Records there in 1968.
He told the audience at the Colonial how he came to the attention of producer Peter Asher and then became the first artist signed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison to record on the Beatles new record label – and of having plenty of time on the street while the Beatles were involved in “marathon recording sessions” for their White Album.
After opening the show with “Something in The Way She Moves,” Taylor said it was “not the first, but the first presentable” song that he wrote (while a teenager, going steady with neighbor Phoebe Sheldon). “Songwriting is what I do,” was one of the straightest things he said all night.
But this show is evidence of another vocation, monologist. He has a real gift for that as he interspersed a full concert set of 20 songs with a narrative that spanned the half-dozen decades of his life. Some of the narrative has a more serious feel to it, although couched with humor, as when he talks about his father and mother; more is sweet, poignant – like how he came to write “Sweet Baby James.” Then there are the stories of the songs that aren’t family-related, which are out and out stand-up comedy material.
“Line ‘Em Up” for example, a song born of President Nixon’s resignation and the mass Moonie marriage in Madison Square Garden, which he introduces to hilarious effect, the narrative illustrated by a slideshow projected onto a large wood-framed screen.
And this is where his declared vocation is manifest, in the ability to transform public events and characters into songs that not only satisfy his own need for expression but also entertain and stimulate an audience.
Today, of course, the wiley street musician is a cat with an Apple laptop from which can emanate not just the sounds of the busker, but the blues of the Hammond organ, or even the soaring harmonies of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus!
All of which were present in this show: Taylor is accompanied by Larry Goldings on piano, keyboards, and harmonium and, from his laptop computer, Taylor projects onto the screen recordings of sixteen members of the T.F.C. (including his wife Kim) accompanying him on “My Traveling Star” and “Shower the People.”
Then there’s the musical contraption, rolled out from the wings for two numbers tonight, a big, boxy Rube Goldberg-like drum machine. Taylor said that the idea to put together a “stripped-down version” of his show came to him about a year and a half ago, but we had an inkling something like it was coming after his 2002 Tanglewood performance with the Boston Pops, where he debuted songs from “October Road” accompanied by Goldings and guitarist John Pizzarelli.
The boldest number tonight was the rap song Taylor sang through a bullhorn to the irresistible rhythm of the drum machine; sure, it was funny, but it was good and affecting too, and we’d like more. Just as a whole ‘nuther side of James Taylor emerges when he straps on the electric guitar to wail and strut on “Steamroller,” the drum machine (and bullhorn) seem to give access to yet another aspect of this marvelously gifted and generous performer.