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In Columbia, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt Showed They’re Aging With Ease

on February 12, 2019 No comments
By Kyle Petersen

James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt; Colonial Life Arena, Columbia; Feb. 8, 2019

James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt are legendary performers, but neither has been particularly culturally relevant for nearly 30 years. And it would appear that suits them just fine.

It seemed like the most unlikely beginning to their Colonial Life Arena show when Taylor sauntered onto the stage with the lights barely dimmed to amble his way through an introduction of Raitt, a frequent touring partner during the last few years. He’s probably done a version of this speech more than a hundred times now, but he still comes across as half earnest fan, half weathered longtime compatriot that’s genuinely excited for the audience.

That sort of casual assuredness emanated from both Raitt and Taylor. The former, backed by a relatively modest five-piece band and still boasting her fiery red mane with just a touch of grey, had a clear command of the stage and an easy gravitas as she rocked and rolled through a choice set of cuts from throughout her catalog, many of which made use of the particular talents of famed New Orleans keyboardist Ivan Neville.

In between songs, she readily chattered with the audience, encouraging them to check out the Sierra Club and other activist tables outside on the concourse while eschewing anything more politically pointed than “these crazy times.” It was clearly a well-honed set, with some tasty Texas blues cuts (including a Chris Smithers tune) and an Afrobeat-flavored number dropped in amid her more commercially successful efforts. And, with the gorgeous one-two combo of “Nick of Time” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that came near the end of the set sure to devastate the entire crowd, her confidence was warranted. Raitt’s voice was in fine form throughout, capably delivering the more rocking moments but shining the most on those vulnerable ballads where she cut through the air of the arena with wrenching clarity.

Of course, the crowd was clearly there for Taylor, a generally mellow singer-songwriter who seemed like an odd fit for the clanging metal expanse of the arena. But, with grandfatherly affability, the well-seasoned and skilled performer brought a keen sense of his audience to the production, creating a living room vibe despite the massive backing band and giant screen backdrop that accompanied him. Opening with “Carolina on My Mind,” a predictable winner if ever there was one, it was clear that neither the jazzy digressions that Taylor occasionally dabbles in nor the temptation to pomp and thunder would win out — this was really about soaking in the inimitable style of the ’60s/’70s folk icon.

That reedy, lackadaisical voice. The penchant for never stretching beyond midtempo. The distinctively jangly guitar sound. These familiar Taylor hallmarks dominated the proceedings as he delivered hit after hit, providing just enough space on tunes like “Walking Man” and “Steamroller” to let his band stretch while staying committed to a fan-service setlist (“Sweet Baby James,” “Something in the Way,” “How Sweet It Is,” and “Country Roads” and others were dutifully rendered). The giant screen served as an at-times painfully literal PowerPoint presentation, chronicling the content of the song or nostalgic images of a young Taylor that the crowd readily lapped up.

Throughout, Taylor played up his aw-shucks image, playfully poking at audience members shouting out requests and a bit at the big screen behind him. He seemed to recognize that there was something simple and unfussy about the relationship between his music and the audience, and he was content to work cozily within that dynamic.

The encore, naturally, saw Raitt returning to the stage for a series of duets, jamming through songs by Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”) and Carole King (the Taylor hit “You’ve Got a Friend”) and a gorgeous rendition of “You Can Close Your Eyes,” before closing, oh-so-fittingly, with a reprise of “Carolina on My Mind.” Sometimes fan service ain’t so bad.

Source: © Copyright Free Times But wait, there's more!

James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt serenade KeyBank Center

on July 2, 2018 No comments


James Taylor’s soothing simplicity satisfies at KeyBank Center

Like a scoop of ice cream on an oppressive summer night, James Taylor is a magical salve. He always makes our lives seem a little easier, a little calmer, a little simpler.

That’s just what Taylor and his All-Star Band served Sunday night at KeyBank Center, with help from longtime pal, blues goddess Bonnie Raitt.

Raitt’s generous set was studded with a blend of entry points, from radio-friendly anthems “Something To Talk About” and “Thing Called Love,” to delicious covers of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” Her full band – and a surprise early appearance by Taylor – reinforced all that we love about Raitt. Her knowing restraint on a drippy blues riff, her political activism and folk-era organizing, her kind, gracious tenor with an adoring audience.

She is a class act – and having just returned to this tour after time off for health complications, looking in tip-top shape.

The vibe in the room, at near capacity, was both relaxed and recharged. This was a fantastic first course.

James Taylor performs at the KeyBank Center on Sunday, July 1, 2018 © Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News

Taylor and his crew transitioned into a two-hour set with the quiet “Carolina In My Mind,” a trailways number perfectly blended by Taylor’s folk and country leanings. The stage bloomed with its warm glow, illustrated on floating screens by images of postcards, sunrises and quiet roads. A calm dip in a warm bath.

It may be easy to cast Taylor off as a softie. He’s a little dorky, a little idealistic, a little dad-jokey. Just picture him as a young troubadour, with that innocent puppy-dog face and those long locks. He’s aged with the best of them, and so has his music.

Old friends like “Fire and Rain,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Shower the People,” a number of Carole King covers, to name a few, showed up with a glimmer of nostalgia, wearing their wrinkles with pride.

Some songs came with stories. “Sweet Baby James” was made sweeter knowing it was written as a gift, a cowboy lullaby, to his nephew bearing his name.

“Something In the Way She Moves” was auditioned for The Beatles’ Apple Records in London, promptly earning him his debut album deal. And the empowering lyrics in “Shed a Little Light,” a lesser known but fantastic gospel meditation, highlighted his folk bloodline, urging us to heed the Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of brotherhood and sisterhood, of commonality in times of divisiveness.

These were the calming licks that we all wanted, and that Raitt and Taylor delivered so masterfully. They have a great musical partnership here, one that’s toured before, and can be found buried in session credits.

This was truly a “friends” kind of show, between bandmates and backup singers trading spots in each other’s set, to step-in appearances on each other’s songs – including a rousing joint encore paying tribute to the late Chuck Berry – this felt natural and real and peaceful. A concert meets a bonfire meets a prayer service. That feels nice.

James Taylor performs at the KeyBank Center on Sunday, July 1, 2018 © Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News

Source: © Copyright The Buffalo News

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How sweet it was: James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt charm the Big Gig crowd

on June 29, 2018 No comments

By Lori Fredrich

It’s not often you experience a show put on by two musical veterans whose combined experience comprises nearly a century. But last night’s American Family Insurance Amphitheater show featuring James Taylor and special guest Bonnie Raitt offered exactly that.

Raitt was less an opening act than Taylor’s partner in crime; they’re friends delighted to be on the road together, and together their performances rang far more true as a double billing.

The show began with an appearance from Taylor, who took the stage and addressed the crowd with a humble introduction: “It’s my great honor and pleasure to introduce to you the woman, who in my opinion epitomizes the musical art of our generation … my dear, beloved friend, Miss Bonnie Raitt.”

Taylor slid into the background as Raitt took her place on the glowing purple-lit stage showcasing the backdrop of a vibrant sunset, she remarked: “We’ve never played this big giant, but we’re gonna fill it up …”

And fill it up she did.

Something To Talk About

Thing Called Love

Angel from Montgomery

You've Got A Friend

Carolina In My Mind


Raitt, who missed the opening leg of her tour with Taylor due to emergency surgery, was in prime form, effortlessly moving between genres – from acoustic blues to funk, R&B and pop – with deft guitar and impassioned vocals.

In fact, her too-short hour-long set was quintessential Raitt, complete with Delta-style bottleneck work, political commentary and a bit of roadhouse rumble.

Raitt has always been a gifted interpreter, magically taking ownership of songs she may not have written but may as well have. And her show at the Amp aptly demonstrated her talent.

Over the course of the next hour, Raitt showcased her prowess on electric guitar with a rollicking, music festival appropriate version of the Fabulous Thunderbirds cover “I Believe I’m in Love” and poured an impressive bit of heart into an acoustic soulful version of “Devil Got My Woman,” a song written by Delta blues singer and songwriter Skip James. She also grooved from behind a keyboard to “Nick of Time,” a song she performed with Arnold McCuller, a James Taylor All-Star Band member and solo artist who has appeared on numerous Raitt albums.

Meanwhile, her trademark slide provided the connective tissue for an ultra-sexy, amped up version of “Need You Tonight,” a song that went beyond simple nostalgia and became something worthy of homage to the late Michael Hutchence.

Bonnie Raitt at American Family Insurance Amphitheater – Summerfest Milwaukee June 28, 2018 © Ty Helbach

Her commentary was brief, but ranged from political to personal.
Before drifting into the uncannily appropriate “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” by jazz artist Mose Allison, the vocally political singer took a brief jab at President Donald Trump, having noted the sluggishness of traffic caused by his Milwaukee visit, “I wonder how much that cost? I guess we’ll find out …” she noted.

Throughout her 10-song set, she clearly exhibited her 11-time Grammy-winning worthiness while graciously offering nods to numerous Milwaukee musicians – including friend and artist Paul Cebar, who’d featured her as a guest on his WMSE-FM show.

Bonnie Raitt at American Family Insurance Amphitheater – Summerfest Milwaukee June 28, 2018 © Ty Helbach

Although the audience took a while to warm up, Raitt got them going with crowd-pleasers like “Something to Talk About,” her raspy vocals purring the lyrics as the crowd sang along. Meanwhile, she dedicated a beautiful rendition of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” to women around the world, including those “separated from their children,” evoking a standing ovation from a formerly seated crowd.

After a fiery jaunt through the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” which brought the crowd to its feet, Raitt wrapped up her set, welcoming Taylor back to the stage.

The two friends took up their guitars and played “A Thing Called Love.” And while their voices didn’t blend perfectly, the admiration and affection between them was palpable. And it reverberated into the audience, the majority of which remained standing, bobbing and tapping their feet in participatory bliss.

James Taylor singing at American Family Insurance Amphitheater – Summerfest Milwaukee June 28, 2018 © Ty Helbach

Taylor performed his show with an exceedingly talented group of musicians, including percussionist Steve Gadd and “Blues Brothers” sax player Lou Marini. A moving performance of “Country Road” featured a stirring fiddle solo from Andrea Zonn, while Cuban percussionist Luis Conte added international flair with Latin-inspired grooves on both “First of May” and “Mexico.”

The evening was dappled with “Grandpa” jokes, brief zingers delivered in Taylor’s classically awkward-yet-endearing style. There were also self-deprecating stories, told playfully, often as keen set-ups for songs.

During “Sunny Skies,” the audience was treated to funny little home videos of Taylor’s dog, of which he remarked: “There’s nothing we will not stoop to in meeting all of your entertainment needs.”

There was also amusing profanity. Before performing the danceable, salsa-flecked version of “First of May,” he told the tale of a little ditty his father was known to recite without fail every May Day: “Hooray, hooray, the first of May. Outdoor f*cking starts today.” But somehow, when James Taylor drops an F-bomb, it has a way of coming off vaguely sweet, even church-worthy.

“Handy Man,” a song I knew throughout my childhood only as the “Comma” song, was performed against a backdrop of comic videos depicting handymen of all stripes – some exhibiting the ubiquitous plumber butt, others operating tractors or heavy equipment – experiencing any number of amusingly unfortunate accidents.

There were also more personal selections. Take “Something in the Way She Moves,” a song he performed for the audition which earned him an inaugural contract with The Beatles’ Apple Records. Taylor relayed the story of the audition, which rendered him “clinically” nervous. He also threw a slight barb at George Harrison.

“Paul liked the song enough to sign me to his record label,” he remarked, “and George liked the song so much he went home and wrote it himself,” he noted with a chuckle, a reference to Harrison’s blatant use of the song for the 1969 Beatles hit “Something.”

Despite two hours of largely impressive performances, the show wasn’t without awkward moments. Take for instance, Taylor’s performance of “Steamroller,” during which the 70-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hammed it up, strutting across the stage with his screaming electric guitar, sometimes upstaging talented guitarist Michael Landau. It was almost a relief when the song quieted and Taylor moved deftly into the ballad, “Lonely Tonight.”

But those moments were largely overshadowed by beautiful musical interludes and impressive harmonies. Taylor’s voice – miraculously unscathed by time and excess – easily danced through the 20-song set without a hitch. And his delivery of moving lyrics, relayed without frill or pretense, gave credence to his reputation as the harbinger of the singer-songwriter era.

The personal nature of his work was evidenced in tunes like the “cowboy lullaby” written for his older brother’s newborn son, “Sweet Baby James.” During his performance, a video pop-up book featuring the lyrics scrolled across the screen, creating a mood that linked the audience to the song in a palpable way.

Between songs, he’d pause to offer generous – and well-deserved – accolades to a member of the band or to marvel at the moon rising over Lake Michigan. And one couldn’t help but realize how much this artist – a man whose complex journey was marked with both challenges and successes – is truly present, living life in each moment.

And even as he sang “Fire and Rain” for what was likely the 35 millionth time, there was the same clarity, the same emotion in his voice that there’s always been. And the lyrics – written at least 48 years – rang as true as ever.

James Taylor’s Summerfest performance was a keen reminder that there’s still soul in pop music. © Ty Helbach

To my surprise, I also found myself beaming during “Smiling Face.” It’s a cheerful song, for sure. But it was the way the video cameras panned the audience, capturing the delighted looks, smiles and moments of surprise as audience members realized that their swaying, singing countenances were being displayed on the big screen.

These moments held reminders that Taylor’s songs, his art, are intimately bound to both the everyday moments and emotions we all experience. It’s what makes his music so relatable. So infinitely singable. So real for so many.

The encore included a rousing rendition of Chuck Barry’s “Johnny B. Goode” during which a hyped up Taylor performed once again with Raitt, who added raspy vocals and spirited guitar licks. That was followed by the infinitely singable “You’ve Got A Friend,” and “You Can Close Your Eyes,” a duet that seemed to highlight the love shared by Raitt and Taylor while offering a soulful and heartfelt farewell to the audience.

It was a fitting close to a concert that reminded everyone that, in an age when music tends toward the homogenized and impersonal, there’s still an awful lot of heart and soul in the world.

Set lists

Bonnie Raitt
“Unintended Consequence of Love”
“Need You Tonight” (INXS cover)
“Everybody’s Crying Mercy” (Mose Allison cover)
“I Believe I’m in Love” (Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)
“Devil Got My Woman” (Skip James cover)
“Have a Heart”
“Something to Talk About”
“Nick of Time”
“Angel From Montgomery” (John Prine cover)
“Burning Down the House” (Talking Heads cover)
“Thing Called Love” with James Taylor

James Taylor
“Carolina On My Mind”
“Country Road”
“Sunny Skies”
“Walking Man”
“First of May”
“Handy Man” (Jimmy Jones cover)
“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”
“Up on the Roof” (Carole King cover)
“Something in the Way She Moves”
“Sweet Baby James”
“Fire and Rain”
“Shed a Little Light”
“Your Smiling Face”
“Shower the People”
“How Sweet It Is” (To Be Loved by You) (Marvin Gaye cover)

“Johnny B. Goode” with Bonnie Raitt (Chuck Berry cover)
“You’ve Got a Friend” (Carole King cover)
“You Can Close Your Eyes” with Bonnie Raitt

Source: © Copyright OnMilwaukee and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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