Peace and love, baby. Peace and love.
That was the vibe on Saturday evening as singer-songwriter James Taylor brought his All-Star Band to Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. There, a mostly Baby Boomer and generally mellow crowd (except for the woman a few rows down who repeatedly hollered “I love you, James!”) sang along to the folksy hits of the ’70s while fumbling with the selfie and videocam settings on their smartphones.
“I’m in my sixties,” a concertgoer announced to nobody in particular as The Husband and I found our seats. “He’s a throwback from my generation.”
Maybe so. But part of James Taylor’s appeal is that his music can be enjoyed by all ages, whether or not those ages realize it. (Case in point: every night, either The Husband or I must sing “You Can Close Your Eyes” to our son. He’s a newly-minted teenager who still calls this “The Goodnight Song.”)
Last night marked the third time that The Husband and I – both 45 – had the good fortune to see the 66-year old James Taylor in concert. We don’t get out much: this was our first concert since seeing JT’s ex-wife Carly Simon on November 25, 2005 at the Borgata in Atlantic City, NJ.
Whether once in a decade or once in a lifetime, a James Taylor concert is a treat. I had wondered how his intimate style would hold up in a stadium environment like Consol, which would be the first time we would see James Taylor indoors.
No worries. Opening with a reverential bow to the audience that almost seemed to be a reflective pause of gratitude, James Taylor greeted the crowd by wishing us a heartfelt “Happy Thanksgiving.” He might as well have hand-delivered a personalized greeting card to every single one of us. Light the fire, friends, and pour another glass of merlot; the mood was set as if we were in the Taylors’ living room listening to a good friend playing guitar and us singing along and smiling at the backstories that introduced the songs we’d been listening to for our entire lives.
As he opened his first set with “Something in the Way She Moves,” James Taylor took us back to 1968 with his audition song for Apple Records – a performance that he did all those years ago for Paul McCartney and George Harrison. It was an especially fitting inclusion for the evening and would mark the first of several occasions when he would mention The Beatles during the concert.
Although the anniversary went unmentioned by James Taylor, I’m sure there were a few of us in the audience who, like The Husband and I, couldn’t help remembering that November 29, 2014 marked exactly 13 years since the death of George Harrison and who saw the bittersweet ironic connection of George Harrison’s “Something” and the selection of “Something in the Way She Moves” as the opening number on this date.
(Another Beatles connection onstage last night was in the form of All-Star Band drummer Steve Gadd, who performed on Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” album.)
Especially noteworthy to play in Pittsburgh was “Millworker,” a song about a woman working in a Lowell, Massachusetts shoe mill and written for a musical based on Studs Terkel‘s Working. The lyrics could very well have been about life once upon a time in the Steel City.
“I can ride home in the evening, staring at my hands,
swearing by my sorrow that a young girl ought to stand a better chance.
So may I work the mills just as long as I am able
and never meet the man whose name is on the label.
It be me and my machine for the rest of the morning
and the rest of the afternoon, gone for the rest of my life.”
Mixed in with crowd-pleasing classics like “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain,” and “Country Road” were three new songs. The ballad “You and I Again” about midlife love is probably my favorite of the trio. “Today, Today, Today” hearkens back to 1968, James Taylor explained. And what little I could hear of “Stretch of the Highway” I liked, no thanks to the cacophony of folks returning to their seats and continuing their banal chatter after the 20-minute intermission. I’m hoping that these new tunes in the James Taylor songbook will make an appearance on what I’ve read is a new JT album in the works. (The sooner the better, please?)
Speaking of making an appearance, I had secretly been hoping that offspring Ben or Sally would stop by to say hi to Dad onstage. I mean, it’s Thanksgiving weekend and the holiday season – anything is possible, right? As it turned out, James was joined by Henry, one of his 13-year-old twin sons, who sang backup on “Shower the People.” Looking as dapper as his father, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more from Henry in the future.
(While we’re on my secret hopes? I would have liked to have heard “You Can Close Your Eyes,” although we did hear him do that in concert in 2005, so I can’t complain. And, speaking on behalf of all of us middle-aged concertgoers who have postponed our eye exams and need to upgrade our bi- and trifocal prescriptions, I personally could have used a larger Jumbotron. I mean, you can’t possibly tell me I’m the only one in Consol whose vision is clearly not what it was in her salad days. I’m just sayin’. But these are minor, minor quibbles.)
The second set (previewed to the audience by James holding up a list written on what he compared to roofing material and joking with the audience about the inclusion of the ever-popular “Steamroller”) was lighter on the storytelling and a bit more on the upbeat hits like the “big city song ‘Up on the Roof,'” “Only One,” and “Your Smiling Face.”
As we left the concert, it almost felt as if Pittsburgh’s late-November chill had actually turned somewhat … well, balmy.
Perhaps it was an aftershock of the backdrop images that accompanied “Carolina in My Mind” and the smiling faces of beachgoers hoisting margaritas to “Mexico” that made us feel toasty. We weren’t imagining it; turns out, according to our car thermometer, it really was about 15 degrees warmer.
It wouldn’t have mattered if it was twenty below zero. These have been some intensely stress-filled months for The Husband and me. For three hours, we were able to forget our worries and cares while enjoying an evening in the company of a longtime friend.
Perhaps that needs to happen a little more often. In the meantime, during these cold winter nights, I’ll be listening to a little more JT than usual.