review: james taylor @ warner theatre

A brief review of a lovely show:

James Taylor’s “One Man Band” tour made its DC stop on the eve of the 2006 mid-term elections. As such, the concert was a welcome respite from attack politics, and while not free of political jabs, placed songcraft and storytelling at the fore.

To me, it was the ideal presentation of James Taylor’s music. In his tours since the 1990s, Taylor has been happy to surround himself with myriad musicians and backing vocalists. This sound played to the adult-contemporary crowd but also blunted the power of his songwriting. Taylor’s voice and gift truly shine when presented with minimal dressing: just him, his guitar, and perhaps a piano.

And that’s what this tour is about: Taylor, a pianist, and the occasional accompaniment from a drum machine (literally, a machine that plays a real drum kit – apparently Taylor built it himself) or the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, of whom his wife is a member. But mostly, the concert focused on JT, his guitars and his ever-youthful voice.

He also showed slides (using his PowerBook and Keynote), showing some of the inspirations of songs: family members, home movies, placed visited, and even the frozen man. And even though Taylor’s setlist was short (around 16 or 17 songs, including intermission and two encores), the storytelling made it seem like a large-venue-format house concert.

His set interspersed a few deep cuts – “Chili Dog,” “Never Die Young,” “Mean Old Man” – amongst the hits, like “Fire And Rain,” “Sweet Baby James” and “You’ve Got A Friend.” This was used to good effect, allowing Taylor to show off his work on both electric and acoustic guitar, and allowing his keyboardist, Larry Goldings, to show off his own impressive chops on piano, organ and harmonium.

The only nit to pick with this show was the audience: there were a lot of hecklers in the crowd who would yell out requests, chide Taylor’s taking time to sign autographs and shake hands with fans, and vocalize their impatience with JT’s storytelling. To those fans: sod off and go to a big arena rock show.

Or better yet: stay home, spin up JT on the stereo, and invite your Hill-staffer friends for a night of political sniping around the fireplace. It’ll leave more seats for the folks who came to enjoy JT live and in the flesh.

Set Highlights: “Mean Old Man,” “Steamroller,” “Slap Leather,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Carolina In My Mind,” Line ‘Em Up,” “Chili Dog,” “Never Die Young” – aw heck, all of it!