James Taylor * * * *
at Symphony Hall
Review by Marcus Face
American singer songwriter legend James Taylor sings intelligent, well-constructed acoustic based material with an introspective slant, so typical of the Laurel Canyon-based troubadors of the early 1970s.
Though plainly a product of that era, his music travels quite well through to now, and is undeserving of the kitsch status bestowed upon it by unkind post-punk journalists.
Indeed, through heroin addiction and spells in psychiatric hospital, and a no-doubt exhausting marriage to Carly Simon, Taylor is the one who has survived to tell the tale.
In its stripped down form this music holds well, free from any stodgy production setting.
Accompanied by a keyboardist, JT looked fit but not youthful, (he is now 58) handsome but bald, dressed in faded blue and black denims, seated before an exquisite silk tapestry backdrop bathed in red then purple light, with a cluster of white grape like lights illuminating at fitting moments.
Operating by foot switch a sequence of slides and silent home movie footage, he revealed aspects of his life, drawing the audience into tales of his father's South Pole adventures, his time with Joni Mitchell, and his stints at the Troubador club, hub of the LA scene in the early 70s.
There, Carole King gave him You've Got A Friend to record, the song for which many people went to Symphony Hall last night.
A good humoured raconteur, Taylor paced his set with witty dialogue (Joni Mitchell, by the way, he described as "my bitch", adding rather sheepishly that he was her bitch too).
The real surprise was the drum machine. A giant sculptural construction resembling a wooden steam engine with great pounding hammers, this extraordinary device incorporates a real drum kit, which it duly plays.
A clunky beast, and some might think a rather clunky piece of humour too, it added further colour to what, in fairness, was a dynamic one man show, showcasing the work of a songwriter who, after all, attracted the patronage of none other than the Beatles for whose Apple label he recorded his first album.
A trust fund kid from a privileged background, James could not avoid life's misfortunes and his musings upon them, and expressions of emotion in relation to life's experiences are the stuff from which his material is comprised.
The audience of 50-something former hippies, with their expensive casual attire and nostagic yearning seemed more than satisfied with the selection of songs spanning Taylor's long career.
* James Taylor plays at Wolverhampton Civic Hall tomorrow