The first time I saw James Taylor was in 2001, as a near freshman in high school. Eleven years later I was seeing him for the fifth time, and at no point have any of those concerts disappointed.
This past Sunday (July 15, 2012), I saw Taylor at the Mud-Island Amphitheater. Despite forecasts for rain and a major traffic jam/bottleneck to get on the actual island, it was a wonderful evening. He is still quite an entertainer at 64 years old and absolutely hilarious when he takes time to interact with the audience in between songs.
After humbly walking on stage and waving to the crowd, he sat down and dove straight into two lengthy sets comprised mostly of his classics interspersed with some of his lesser-known back catalog. His backing band was made up of a hodgepodge of musical talents and legends ranging from Lou Marini, the sax player from The Blues Brothers to former Steely Dan lead session guitarist Dean Parks. They might all be up there in years, but they still put on a heck of a show.
Here are a few of my favorite moments:
- The breakdown at the end of “Country Road” is a staple of a James Taylor concert, but listening to him improvise what sounds like the closest thing to a James Taylor freestyle rap that you can imagine never gets old
- “Sun on the Moon” is one of Taylor’s lesser known works from the 2000 album Never Die Young. The harmonies he and his four backup singers made during this particular rendition were stunning. And to leave the audience hanging with this number at the end of the first set no doubt excited them for what was still to come with the second set.
- Performing “Memphis, Tennessee” by Chuck Berry seems like a no-brainer when you are in Memphis, but opening the second set with it was a great move by Taylor to welcome the crowd back from their bathroom/beer runs.
- It’s pretty incredible that the number of hits Taylor has put out can give you a concert with songs you hear that you might have forgotten about and songs you’re sad he had to leave out because he had already played for a solid two and a half hours.
- “Carolina in my Mind” was the song that hooked me on JT years ago, but it was a welcomed treat to hear its back story, a story I had never heard. At the beginning of his career, when Taylor was signed to Apple Records, The Beatles’ label, he of course had to spend some time in England. He wrote “Carolina” simply because he was homesick. It was touching to hear the story and then the song as I looked at the skyline of my home.
I never tire of seeing James Taylor. This concert was just as much of a gem as the rest have been. If he came back tomorrow, I would gladly pay the money to go see him again. If you haven’t ever had the pleasure to witness him perform live, do yourself a favor and go next time he’s somewhere near you. It’s worth it.
Other notable upcoming concerts in Memphis:
The Sheepdogs (9/28/12), Mutemath (10/19/12), Passion Pit (10/27/12), all at Minglewood Hall.
Train w. Mat Kearney (9/12/12) and The Avett Brothers (10/12/12) both at Mud Island Amphitheater.
The Alabama Shakes (9/28/12) at The New Daisy Theatre.
For info on upcoming concerts at The Hi-Tone Café please visit their website, http://www.hitonememphis.com/, for more details. There are too many to list.