The first of many stage sets for James Taylor’s concert at the Sprint Center on Tuesday depicted a comfortable home in a wooded area. The revered singer-songwriter managed to make many of the 12,000 fans at the cavernous arena feel as if they were sitting in his living room.
Excellent sound, first-rate visuals and impeccable musicianship imparted an intimate ambience to Taylor’s show. The personal anecdotes he shared between the 24 selections further deepened Taylor’s bond with his admirers.
In his introduction to “Jump Up Behind Me,” Taylor reminisced that he was a troubled teen with a “drug habit” before his mellow folk-rock songs made him a star. Sensing that Taylor was in dire straits in New York City in 1967, his father “showed up in the family station wagon” after driving from the family home in North Carolina. Taylor added that “I think he probably saved my life.”
His fortunes soon changed. After playing “Something in the Way She Moves,” Taylor proudly recalled that “the Beatles had just started Apple Records and I was the first person to get signed.” The lovely ballad opened the second set, a sequence of songs that Taylor correctly insisted was “jam-packed with hit after hit.”
The popular selections included his version of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” one of several genteel soul workouts by Taylor and his 10-piece band. A rendering of his undeniable masterstroke “Fire and Rain” featured spine-tingling accents from drummer Steve Gadd. Taylor described “Sweet Baby James” as a “go-to-sleep-you-little-buckaroo thing” that he wrote for his nephew.
Although Taylor’s music is deliberately wispy, only a reading of “Walking Man” dragged. Taylor’s lively demeanor and astonishingly virile voice staved off tedium.
While he perched on a stool for most of the 140 minutes he was on stage, Taylor joyfully pogoed during “Up On the Roof,” danced to a Brazilian interpretation of “First Day of May” and executed a modified Chuck Berry-style duck walk as his band jammed on “Steamroller Blues.”
Taylor’s age-defying voice was the night’s most pleasant surprise. During “Handy Man,” he gruffly growled like Barry White and crooned like Al Green. The three background singers clearly weren’t on hand to compensate for any vocal deficiency.
Taylor observed that the title of “Never Die Young” is “good advice” before joking that “it’s already too late for me.”
Maybe so, but Taylor, 70, has never sounded stronger.
Set list: Carolina in My Mind; Country Road; Jump Up Behind Me; Never Die Young; Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight; (I'm a) Road Runner; Nothing Like a Hundred Miles; First Day of May; Copperline; Handy Man; Mexico; Something in the Way She Moves; Sunny Skies; Walking Man; Up on the Roof; Steamroller Blues; Sweet Baby James; Fire and Rain; Your Smiling Face; Shower The People; How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You); Shed a Little Light; In the Midnight Hour; You've Got a Friend