Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“You’re still sexy!”
It was just a lone voice from the crowd, directed not at New Kids on the Block — that was two weeks ago — but James Taylor, who brought a churning urn of burning funk to the PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night.
The set-up for that come-on was Taylor backing the song “Sunny Skies” with a video of him frolicking around with lovable pug.
“Shameless footage of a dog,” he said in his wry manner. “When you give up on sexy, you gotta go cute.”
Apparently, he doesn’t have to give up on sexy completely. James Taylor, at 69, can still woo fans with those tender folk/pop songs, just sitting on a stool in the middle of an arena picking an acoustic guitar.
Those were just a few parts of the show, although that’s the image most people have of his concerts. When I told someone I was going to see James Taylor, he said, “Why, are you not sleeping well lately?”
JT and his crack 10-piece band do plenty to keep us awake. In fact, by the end, he had his crowd (of about 7,000) up and dancing like it was a wedding.
The first thing Taylor did to keep people alert was to bring along Bonnie Raitt, whom he stepped out to introduce as “my favorite singer in the world.”
If you just saw Bonnie Raitt walking down the street, you’d probably think she looks pretty cool. Accessorize her with a beat-up Strat and she enters an almost untouchable realm of cool. With her red hair and that shock of white, she stands on stage like a queen — upright and poised — and plays slide guitar like a devil. Over her 45-year Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, she’s demonstrated time again that she can trade licks with anybody. She continues to do it now with another skilled player in George Marinelli, from blazing solos to slow burners.
She packed a lot of greatness into her hour with staples like “Something to Talk About” and her stunning cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” which she dedicated to the millions of women in the world who don’t enjoy the freedoms and choices that American women do.
After the lovely “Take My Love With You,” she said “Nothing like a sweet one…followed by a sour one,” leading her into a fiery “Spit of Love” with one of her meanest jams.
She has swagger to burn. In her cover of INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” she sang, “There’s something about you, baby …. that makes me sweat,” at which point she stopped for a second to glare at the audience. You had to be there to feel it.
At the piano, she took “Nick of Time” to church with gospel singer Arnold McCuller from JT’s band. “It’s a song I wrote when it was 39 and worried about turning 40,” she said. “It’s funny to think about that now.” The 67-year-old guitarist said that when she was carousing with the old blues guys all those years ago, “I never thought I’d still be here now.” We’re lucky to have her.
She ended her set with Taylor back for a rousing duet on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” with three guitars flaring.