James Taylor still can move an audience with Beatles’ stories

JT came to Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore Tuesday and pleased a sea of gray heads by playing the soundtrack of their lives with a music catalog that expands six decades with five Grammy Awards and an induction in the Rock and Roll of Fame in 2000.

No it wasn’t that JT.  It was the original JT – the one that everyone over  50 knows – and the one whose album in 1977 is called JT. He’s the one who can’t dance but sure can finger-pick his guitar and sing as if he was still in his twenties and recording before the Beatles at Apple Studios.

And it was a Beatles night at Royal Farms Arena.

James Taylor kicked off his nearly two-hour set with a Beatles’ story and the song that launched in his recording career in 1968 – Something in the Way She Moves.  He first sang that song before Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison when the Beatles’ took a break recording the White Album. Harrison supposedly was so inspired after hearing the song – that it led to the quiet one writing the classic Something.

They liked the tune and he was signed to Apple Records – the first non-British act to do so.  Two years later he released Fire and Rain and that put Taylor on the charts and from there the hits kept coming.

Taylor smiled as he recalled the day with Apple. He said it was so cool to watch the Beatles record the White Album.

But unfortunately he said, “I don’t remember anything about it.”

Well, it was the 1960s and Taylor had his bout with heroin before kicking the habit, although it didn’t quite explain him thanking the audience for coming out Wednesday – when it was actually Tuesday. He joked about that.

The song set the tone for James Taylor and his All-Star Band, which played  nearly flawlessly through the night – kicking out numbers that thousands of fans waited to hear, such as Sweet Baby James, Carolina in My Mind,  Copperline, Handyman,  Fire and Rain and his signature song – You’ve Got a Friend. Taylor’s voice remains strong while so many of his contemporaries from the 1960s are struggling to hit the notes. His guitar work stumbled a bit – missing a few notes – but then so did Harrison on Roll over Beethoven and the Beatle didn’t have age as an excuse.

Taylor frequently joked with the audience as they screamed out requests like play the rocker Steamroller Blues, but he only teased them by holding up his huge song chart, saying that song is scheduled for the second set. But he did honor a request to play Country Road as played it true to the album.

James Taylor in Baltimore (Photos by Erik Hoffman)

Taylor stuck to his usual formula with his array of hits but he introduced two new unremarkable songs that have yet to make it on an album. If there is one fault with Taylor, he hasn’t produced new material in some time – and the two new songs he unveiled Tuesday did not rely heavily on his acoustic guitar and probably won’t even graze the charts.

But the Royal Farms Arena is the perfect venue for a nostalgic act like Taylor because it is a more intimate concert without all the traffic and hassle to catch a glimpse of the superstar.  Even James commented about the history of the Arena where – he noted – “Everyone played here.”

And they did from the Beatles, The Stones to Jim Hendrix and even Elvis. Now, those are tough acts to follow but Taylor did them proud.

During the break between two sets, conversations really gave away the age of the concert goers when they talked about seeing the Beatles at the Arena – then the Civic Center and watching the Baltimore Bullets win the NBA Championship. After the break, Taylor came out and started signing shirts for front-row fans before breaking into the next number.

For most of the songs, the audience sat comfortably in their chairs and listened to the stories and music. The exception was when Taylor encouraged people to stand near the end of the second set and get a little loose and dance a bit.

After his second set, Taylor came back to play his signature song – You’ve Got a Friend that most couldn’t help but sing along.

But one song was not on his playlist for the evening and it should have been.  He failed to perform his Civil Rights’ song – Shed a Little Light, which would have been a perfect song to play in light of the Ferguson protests.

But James stayed away from controversy – something the Beatles never stayed away from. He might have learned that if he could have remembered something about the White Album recording session.

For tour dates check out James Taylor’s website.