Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ames Taylor said it perfectly well into the first of two nights at the brand-new venue, when he said that playing Boston was like a hometown gig. No surprise that the crowd whooped it big time when the lanky singer sang from the western part of the state sang "Now, the first of December was covered with snow/So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston" in an ode to his nephew in "Sweet Baby James."
And when Taylor doffed a Red Sox hat, this wasn't the usual case of out-of-town musician x sucking up to the local crowd by wearing sports paraphernalia of the hometown town, but a sincere act. After all, Taylor did write "Angels of Fenway," following the Sox World Series win in 2004, ending an 86-year-drought. And he performed the song as well this night in before an enthusiastic crowd in the closet to the first set.
There was a lot to like about Taylor's return to Beantown with a two-set, 130-minute performance. First off, he has a variety of songs across the musical palette from folk to soft rock to blues to soul to rockers. Sure, he would play most of his best-known and beloved songs like "You've Got a Friend," "Mexico," "Fire and Rain" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" with the latter two part of his encore.
But then there was the joyful, enjoyable "Easy as Rollin' Off a Log," which Taylor said he knew from a 1937 cartoon, "Katnip Kollege," with Taylor taking the basic song and enhancing it – to good effect. Plus, his very animated, inspired, totally engaged reading of the blues number, "Steamroller," with Michael Landau's sharp guitar licks.
A few songs bordered on being a bit too mellow perhaps, but that also is part of what Taylor is about.
Taylor's keen sense of humor thankfully remains intact. It's not like he says the same worn-out lines night after night given his frequent interactions with the boisterous crowd. Sometimes Taylor would be serious about the derivations of a song, for example, while other times, he was all about being funny, further cementing his connection with the crowd.
At 74, Taylor's voice may not be as sweet and full as it was decades ago, which is not a shocker, but it was loud, clear and clean for most of the night (no surprise given that this was the second show ever at the concert venue) and has aged well.
Taylor's band did its job in providing the appropriate backing starting with veteran drummer Steve Gadd. Perhaps key was his backing chorus, which was anywhere from four- to six-people strong, including his very tall son Henry and sometimes his wife, Kim. The night was further augmented by this being the next-to-last performance of back-up singer Arnold McCullers after 46 years!
The one-two combo of Lou Marini, mainly on sax, and Walt Fowler, primarily on horns, added just the right touch in punching up the songs in what would rightfully be labeled a group effort.
Perhaps it was fitting that Taylor ended the night with a song from 1971's "Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon": "You Can Close Your Eyes," sung only with his son, Henry, both sitting down. James was on acoustic and Henry on electric guitar for the only time all night. James sang a few lines, of course, that rang false: "I don't know no love songs/I can't sing the blues anymore," pivoting to "t won't be long before another day/We gonna have a good time."
That was true of this night for fan and Taylor alike.