August 21, 2006 performance, reviewed by Dave Conlin Read
(Originally published on NewBerkshire.com)
This is the fifth time we’ve seen James Taylor in concert, all at Tanglewood since 2001, and we’re learning that besides delivering an entertaining and satisfying musical experience, he always offers a big slice of himself and there’s always some other memorable element.
Having been caught in the 2002 traffic jam that resulted in the JT rule, we made sure to be on the Tanglewood grounds way before seven, getting there with time enough to stroll around and amid his audience, as if anticipating the role they’d play in today’s show. Audience participation (and the concomitant Shed usher capitulation) may be the element that distinguishes this show.
As the Shed filled and fans settled in, the buzz of anticipation became more and more apparent until it reminded us of the sound heard near the base of a great waterfall. About quarter past seven, a roar of applause followed Taylor’s unannounced stroll up to the center stage mic: “That went we well,” he said before opening the show with a lovely solo rendition of “Something in the way she moves.”
And then a zany fan bolted from her seat just across the aisle from us, zipped right up to Taylor and thrust her program and a pen at him. He leaned over and wrote on it; an admonition and directions to the nearby Austen Riggs Center would have been in order, but we could see that he just signed his name as she gleefully waved it about strutting back to her seat, garnering nary a nod from any usher.
Taylor reclaimed the spotlight a moment later, describing the setting sun over “the beautiful audience” and announcing the next song “October Road,” as his band assembled, noting the irony of singing a song about going home, whilst there already. Next came a fresh rendition of “The Water is Wide,” his low intoned vocal accented to great effect by Andrea Zonn’s sweet, high fiddle licks.
Ms. Zonn and drummer Steve Gadd then threw down an awesome Celtic duet that just about blew the roof off the joint. Not only does Taylor exude talent, but he attracts it to. Other exemplary moments during the 21-song concert would include singer Arnold McCuller’s achingly-beautiful solo on “Shower the People,” and Michael Landau’s searing yet restrained guitar on “Handy Man.”
The musicianship is always of the highest order; Taylor appears to take good care of himself and he’s always in good voice, whether singing, chanting, humming, vamping, crooning, speaking from the heart, or just shooting the breeze. He’s more than a competent guitarist, too, and when in seated folk mode his playing can seem like a duet with his singing rather than merely accompaniment.
Halfway through the first set, Taylor told the audience to “forget all that crap,” referring to the various prohibitions promulgated on the Tanglewood ticket, going on to say that his band “complains bitterly” about not getting their picture taken. The way he introduces and shares the spotlight with them is nice, spreading individual introductions throughout the show.
Having – fittingly – made a friend at the show, we’d like now to turn the balance of this report over to her:
(via e-mail from Maureen Kelly of Watertown, MA) First of all and most important, James himself was as always, true and real and humorous throughout. I think the scars of life have helped shape his heart and that makes him a joy to listen to….so on that count -I love that in this part of his life, it is faith and God that drives who he is…and I am pleased that, true to himself, he shares that with the audience….he sings from the heart…and really the heart is the deepest place of grace and happiness in life…I love that about his music… that alone let’s me say that I enjoyed the evening.
I loved just sitting and watching him, whatever he was singing….his background vocalists..especially Kate and Arnold are simply spectacular…. although this version of ‘Shower the People’ didn’t allow the best of Arnold’s voice to come out clearly and powerfully as it has in the past… the pieces chosen were all JT classics… a bit overpopulating both sets…one or two new pieces…something called ‘October’ – were so loud I never got it.
On the technical side, I think the setup was really bad….maybe I was sitting in the wrong place….certainly close enough to see the front of the stage very well…but the acoustics were such that they were SOOOO loud I couldn’t hear much in the way of James’ small talk or the lyrics at times… unfortunately ‘loudness’ seems to be a staple at concerts like this – when a lower volume would be fine.
The lighting was irritating, annoying and such that I wanted to scream “kill that lighting dammnit!” I think it actually interfered with everything else going on…..rather than being a support……….it called attention to itself….bad design I guess… These are rare comments from me – but these things really jumped out at me that night.
At times I felt almost as if I were sitting there alone – I didn’t feel any excitement or passion in the audience….I mean it took almost mid-way into the 2nd set for some few folks to get up and boogie….that dancin’ in the aisles is a feature of JT concerts…but it didn’t happen Monday…I danced, and enjoyed myself!!! I did feel that the pieces we’ve all grown to love, overpopulated both sets… maybe that accounted for what seemed to me to be a rather listless audience…. I’ve been to 3 o4 other JT concerts and people were up and dancin’ in the aisles…after the first 15 minutes.
Steve Gadd (drums)
Larry Goldings (piano)
Jimmy Johnson (bass)
Michael Landau (guitar)
Andrea Zonn (also on violin)
Something in the Way She Moves
The Water is Wide
Andrea and Steve Irish jig duet
Sweet Baby James
Fire and Rain
Caroline I See You
Why Baby Why? (George Jones)
Oh, What a Beautiful Morning
Up On the Roof
Carolina in My Mind
Shower the People
How Sweet It Is
You’ve Got a Friend
Secret of Life
the JT rule: After the traffic-snarling record audience of 24,470 for Taylor’s appearance with the Boston Pops on July 17, 2002, the BSO agreed with local officials to cap future ticket sales at 18,000.
Reviews of James Taylor concerts at Tanglewood and the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield:
- Review of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Yo Yo Ma, Boston Pops, John Williams Tanglewood Aug. 26-30, 2009
- James Taylor and his Band of Legends – July 4, 2008 – 60th birthday party
- Review of James Taylor’s One Man Band show at Tanglewood – August 24, 2007
- Review of James Taylor’s “One Man Band” at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre – July 19, 2007
- James Taylor and Band – Tanglewood – August 21, 2006
- James Taylor and Band – Tanglewood – July 4, 2005
- James Taylor and Band – Tanglewood – June 24, 2003
- James Taylor and the Boston Pops – Tanglewood – July 17, 2002
- James Taylor and special guest Yo Yo Ma – Tanglewood – July 4, 2001