As any concertgoer who has watched James Taylor perform at Tanglewood over the course of his four-decade relationship with the venue may know all too well, it isn’t truly summer in the Berkshires until “JT” comes to town.
The renowned singer, songwriter and arguably the Berkshires’ most vocal fan returned to Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed on Monday and Tuesday night for what has developed into an annual tradition, with a pair of Fouth of July shows offering up his biggest hits alongside new surprises.
Appearing onstage with his customary newsboy cap, Taylor would lead concertgoers on a two-hour journey across a half century-long discography while wearing many different hats at once – both figuratively and literally.
Taylor would kick off his July 4 show with the cap tipped slightly forward, sitting on a stool at the front and center of the stage for a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before easing his way into some of his biggest hits, including “Carolina In My Mind” and “Country Road.”
With his longtime “All Star” band in tow – featuring a list of A-list session musicians such as drummer Steve Gadd and guitarist Michael Landau alongside longtime fan-favorites Lou Marini on saxophone and Arnold McCuller on backing vocals – Taylor would gradually evolve from guitarist to bandleader over the course of his first hour-long set, a role the visibly grateful singer welcomed with open arms.
Songs such as “First of May” and “October Road” would find Taylor’s typically gentle acoustic guitar taking a back seat to deliciously dynamic rhythmic interplay between Gadd and percussionist Luis Conte while solos courtesy of Landau and others would find Taylor taking his hat off entirely to “cool off” his bandmates, each of whom Taylor gave ample amounts of spotlight during the show.
At other instances in the show, the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer would tun his hat backwards – a decision that was oftentimes accompanied not with a gentle acoustic guitar, but a growling, surf green-colored Fender Telecaster and surprisingly soulful, country-meets-blues guitar licks courtesy of the guitarist.
But while Taylor may be no stranger to picking up the pace with an electric guitar in hand, it was his special guest for the night, fellow Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2000 inductee Bonnie Raitt, who got a jumpstart on the concert’s yearly fireworks display over Stockbridge Bowl with some fireworks of her own.
Armed with a Fender Stratocaster and microphone, Raitt would first appear on-stage paying tribute to Taylor with one of his own songs, “Rainy Day Man,” of which Taylor said her rendition is his all-time favorite.
Raitt would also treat concertgoers to a hard-hitting, slide guitar-filled take on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” which found Taylor wearing yet another different hat – sideman – as Raitt’s vocals soared above his as the duo traded verses.
Taylor would then return to the singer-songwriter style temporarily with the likes of concert staples “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain” and “Your Smiling Face” before being joined by Raitt once again.
The duo, who will appear at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, San Francisco’s AT&T Park and Boston’s Fenway Park over the course of a 17-city stadium tour, rounded out the concert with what attendees might be able to expect from the pair later this summer, including a tribute to the late Chuck Berry with a Raitt-led rendition of Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and another of Raitt’s favorite Taylor songs to cover, the duet “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
Source: © Copyright MASS Live