Monday, October 20, 2008

Shower the People - James Taylor at UNC Chapel Hill

Ok it does not get any more Chapel Hillian than this, James Taylor on the campus of the University of North Carolina at twilight on a beautiful, clear autumn day gently, intuitively serving up the hits one after another to a respectful, loving audience. It got to me. It was so in synch that the carillon in the bell tower played the quarter hour notes exactly when they would harmonize with JT.

This terrific evening of music started without the usual political rally proding and poking, but rather a gracenote for all those who had already voted and were working with or supporting the Obama campaign. Playing solo, James Taylor sprinkled in politics and started with a beautiful sobering open tuned "America the Beatiful" played and sung as only he could do it. He spoke about how sad it was that the word Government had come to be so reviled, about how purposeful and hopeful the Obama campaign was. A movement he said that had not had its like since the run of Bobby Kennedy according to JT.

As for the music. James was inspired tonight to great heights by the limited seating (making for intimate surroundings) and the beautiful scenery. He played all his hits and some great covers from his new album of covers. The set began with "Something in the Way She Moves" which he said was the first song he wrote worthy of playing for anybody else. I will say now that James Taylor voices on the guitar better than anyone I have seen in person and that his improvisational style and skill make his songs fresh even within their familiarity. He hasn't just been playing his hits for years he's been honing them. He knows where the melody could change just a tiny bit for the better here and there keeping the whole intact for the deep memory acquired from years of listening to recorded versions. A lovely version of "You've Got A Friend" introduced by a story of learning the song watching Carol King do it over and over during their nights at the Trubador in the early 70s. He worked up his version then and said "he had no idea he would be doing it practically every night for the rest of his life."

I want to say quickly that James was in Amazing Voice, he sounded like the early James Taylor, timbre, range and the comfortably familiar tone all in tact. Hits like "Sweet Baby James", "Fire and Rain", preceeded the material from the current cover record. And those were treats especially the Leonard Cohen song "Suzanne" which is a stunner of a song musically and lyrically. He also covered the Jimmy Webb hit "Wichita Lineman" from that record as well.

At the end of an hour of music the moment had come at last for "Carolina in My Mind" and sublime and perfect it was with 5,000 quietly accompanying the harmony. Taylor was in the moment all night long tonight. No band just him connecting with us.
He was funny, affable and damn good. He enjoyed himself enough to give us "Mexico" and "Close Your Eyes" as encores. But he also gently reminded us to vote and be proud of our support for Barack Obama.


ann marie said...

That's a wonderful review in direct live show. I can believe how great it was, America the beautiful James-Taylorized. I do love the Neil Young version as well...
Thanks for sharing.

Rhea said...

How great that you got to hear him live. I live in Boston but have never heard him, and I was too young when he was in his heyday to attend his concerts.

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