Taylor mellow as molasses.
Story by Royce K. DeBowImagine about 10,000 people all deciding to take a stroll, about the same time, on the same night, in the same place. That was the atmosphere as James Taylor fans casually passed through the gates Friday evening, August 10, at Milwaukee's Marcus Amphitheater.
Photos by Terry Mayer
A little before 8 p.m., James Taylor and Band out-strolled the audience by wandering onto the stage. It seemed as if they too were out for an evening walk, and by chance, just happened upon a bunch of instruments that they all knew how to play extremely well. Who knows, the event could end up in one of those Time-Life books as an amazing coincidence or strange phenomenon - you decide.
What wasn't strange was the long lost friend welcome JT and his 11-member cast received as they settled in to start with "Everyday," a Buddy Holly tune Taylorized with a slower tempo and smoother vocals. Those smooth vocals blended well throughout the evening with the soulful, bluesy feel perpetuated by four talented backup singers and seven accomplished musicians.
After his third number, "Only One," the crowd erupted into an extended, standing round of applause. Upon settling down, Taylor took a moment to advise the crowd. "You've got to pace yourselves", he said. To clearly demonstrate why, he hoisted the play list off the stage floor and raised it into the air for all to see. He kindly pointed out how early we were in the concert process as evidenced by the numerous songs yet to come. It was hilarious.
Following his brief and successful comedy sketch, Taylor continued delighting with new tracks that are being readied for release, as well as familiar fare "Line 'em Up" and "Ananas." Then, after nine songs it was half-time. No, not intermission. That came later. Instead, the excitement of a miniature half-time show (with better entertainment) was provided by percussionist Luis Conte. Taylor introduced Conte and stood back as he went to work. His hands were a blur among bongos, sticks, and cymbals. Reminiscent of the excitement that drummers Buddy Rich or Gene Kroupa could raise from an audience, Conte mesmerized an appreciative crowd.
After half-time, a version of Mexico was freshened up with new horn sounds. Then "Shower the People" poured out of the speakers and one of 12 amazing talents on the stage that night, assumed the spotlight. Backup singer Arnold McCuller took over the lead for a few measures and let everyone know he had some pretty impressive pipes too. After the number, even JT commented that he sounded good, "maybe a little too good," quipped Taylor.
The classic "Steamroller" segued into an intermission that was followed by 14 more strongly performed songs. "Copperline," "Fire and Rain," and "How Sweet It Is" confirmed that JT is rare breed among enduring artists that stay fresh, focused, and humble. Taylor was visibly genuine with his credit for each and every member of the band. His generous acknowledgements took place throughout the evening and were lengthened at the end. He was also appreciative of those who came to see him, nodding back and waving to reserved through lawn seat patrons.
Throughout the concert, the instrumentation was superior. But perhaps most impressive were the instruments heard but not seen. The vocal harmonizing between James Taylor and his four backups was moving and inspiring. They all worked hard to add their special ingredient to a one-of-a-kind recipe. The result was course after course of cool and hot dishes that fit perfectly together. Dessert was "Sweet Baby James." Then everybody went home full, but wanting more.
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