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The world might feel stressful and chaotic at the moment, but that’s nothing a James Taylor concert can’t fix.
Seriously; you can feign indifference or even hostility about the singer-songwriter’s easy-listening folk musings, but that all changes when he reels you in with those soothing, gentle melodies. Foot tappers, really, inescapable shopping mall classics written, ironically, by a man with a heavy heroin habit. Take that, Kurt Cobain!
But first, let’s talk opener Jackson Browne … wait, let’s dial that back because Browne is clearly on the same superstar level as James Taylor. Jackson Browne, who apparently lost the coin toss for the tour, was rare to go. He hit the stage a few minutes before his 7:30 start time, and those of us still waiting to get through security could hear him rocking Somebody’s Baby, filtered and garbled through the echo of the Rogers Place concourse like a damaged transistor radio.
It should be stated straight up that while Browne is viewed in some circles as a nostalgia act he actually isn’t. He’s still fired up by current politics, and if Somebody’s Baby and Doctor My Eyes braced the audience for a swell of dopamine-fired sentimentality Browne quickly cut through it with more recent tunes like Until Justice is Real and the Mexican-flavoured The Dreamer. Downhill From Everywhere, from his 2021 album of the same name, was an irresistible rocker, Browne somehow summoning the spirit of both Lou Reed and Mark Knopfler while his two guitarists hammered out an indelibly catchy riff. His voice from him is still in great shape, his playing fiery and his stage banter thoughtful. What more do you need?
Jackson got back to satisfying fans by inviting Taylor onstage for a taut version of The Pretender and then brought it all home, Taylor included, by banging out an impassioned Running on Empty.
If you’ve got a copy of Taylor’s greatest hits (and whose parents don’t?) you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the lanky, 74-year-old singer-songwriter pulled out through most of his 17-song set. It has to be noted that while Taylor made room for some of his more recent songs by him, like the jaunty, swing jazz of As Easy as Rolling Off a Log (from 2020’s American Standards), it was definitely Nostalgiaville all evening. This was made explicit by the corny video backdrop through the first two songs: basic clip art as selected by a bored teenager on Country Road, glowing lightbulb orbs sourced from Bed, Bath, and Beyond descending and ascending during the autumnal Copperline.
Now, some of you are likely outraged at this highly disrespectful description but cool your jets, grams and grams. I also listen to James Taylor, mostly in the car, selected to chill out my wife’s occasional bouts of road rage. Monday night’s performance showed that Taylor can still tug at you with those songs, even as he subtly tweaked them for his band and warm bath of a voice. Not that they perfectly mirrored the studio versions; Taylor isn’t going to drag along an upright bass player to play that simple but gorgeous bowed part in Fire and Rain but whatever, your brain fills it in at this point. I’m not hurt at all.
Taylor made sure to get in at least one of his ’80s jams, tipping his hat to John Belushi with the sombre That’s Why I’m Here, but aside from one or two others he leaned heavily on the omnipresent white anthology with song titles on the front. He brought out his two horn players for Mexico, switched into lullaby mode for Sweet Baby James and spotlighted his backup gorgeous singers with an achingly Carolina on My Mind. His old friend Carole King was summoned via two covers, The Drifters Up on the Roof, and You’ve Got a Friend, which we all agree was best sung by Kermit the Frog. Sorry James; you’re a close third after Carole.
Since we all agree James Taylor isn’t Slayer, and shouldn’t attempt to be Slayer, the concert was exactly what you would have wanted as a Taylor fan. As an addendum, music nerds were excited to find out that not only was Blues Brothers alumni Marini blasting sultry sax sounds throughout Taylor’s set, the legendary Steve Gadd was holding down the drum seat. It was a rare chance to see one of the most highly-regarded session musicians of the last half-century ply his trade from him live, and likely a number of people shelled out the cost of entry just for that.
The Canadian News
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