James Taylor & His All-Star Band Bring Memories and Music to CHI Health CenterDec 09, 2021 10:33AM ● By Terry Jensen
Photo by Norman Seeff, Shore Fire Media
James Taylor still commands cat calls from concert-goers. At age 73, he skillfully responds to women who scream “I love you!” from the upper tiers, saying, “That’s because you don’t know me.” The crowd at CHI Health Center on Tuesday, Dec. 7, believes they do. For a generation, Taylor has been the soundtrack of their lives.
Taylor was joined by guest artist Jackson Browne, who offered a warm, laid-back start to the evening. Performing a mixture of new material and old favorites, his focus was clearly on the message. Newer numbers like “The Dreamer” and “Until Justice is Real” reflect social issues that prompted supportive crowd responses, apparently taking Browne by surprise. He was joined onstage by Taylor for “The Pretender,” before performing his classic, “Running on Empty,” which brought the crowd to their feet. Some even danced in the aisles.
Taylor’s performance opened with a video montage of his songs as performed by others. His music has always been filled with stories, and this evening didn’t disappoint. This concert offered a comforting blend of old favorites and new material, all accompanied by visuals that helped bring the lyrics to life.
One unexpectedly interesting song of the evening was from his 2020 album “American Standard.” “As Easy as Rolling Off a Log,” written in the 1930s by M.K. Jerome-Jack Scholl, is a song Taylor recorded as something he remembered from a “Merry Melodies” cartoon. His performance of it featured visuals from the animation. Taylor and his band succeeded in giving the standards enough new life to keep them fresh without changing old favorites so much the crowd couldn’t connect any longer. Some of this was accomplished by adding depth with instrumentation and backup vocals.
The visuals projected on the screen added further dimension to the experience. The performance of classic “Sweet Baby James,” written after the birth of Taylor’s namesake nephew in 1969, featured vintage images of a cowboy popup book as a backdrop. “Mexico” displayed video of flags, lanterns, and an explosion of colorful marigolds. Each song featured a backdrop of video and light that drew the audience in to the story.
Taylor’s rendition of “Steam Roller” drew squeals from the crowd and brought them to their feet. Many danced in the aisles. By contrast, the simple, poignant performance of “Fire and Rain” that had them singing, softly, to themselves. Taylor rounded out the evening with “How Sweet it Is,” accompanied by a montage of personal family snapshots on the backdrop.
The encore of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” said it all. This concert, for many the first time being in a crowd of more than 8,500 in almost two years, was a chance to spend the evening with a friend.