Review & Set List: James Taylor @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

by Paul Cashmere, Noise11

The keyword for a James Taylor concert is ‘perfection’. James Taylor’s albums are often music masterpieces but it is the live concert experience that makes the songs larger than life.

James Taylor has been doing what he does for a long time. His first album was released in 1968, not in the USA but in the UK. At his show Taylor told the story about how no-one in the American record industry wanted him so he packed up his bags and moved to London. There he met producer Peter Asher who set up an audition at Apple with Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the A&R scouts. Taylor auditioned for Apple before McCartney and Harrison and was given his first contract. That album gave the world Carolina In My Mind.

Every Taylor song is a story. 1991’s Copperline is also about his home state of North Carolina.

Of course not every James Taylor song is his own. He paid tribute to his friend Carole King with two songs back to back (“well, every song is back to back, that’s the only way they can be played”, he joked). He recorded Carole’s 60s classic Up On The Roof for his 1979 album Flag and then played their all-time classic You’ve Got A Friend.

James said he first heard the song when he and Carole were playing some shows at LA’s The Troubadour in the early 70s. Carole had just written the song days earlier and played it for James who learnt it straight away so he could play it that night at the club. “At the time I didn’t realise that I would be playing it every night for the rest of my life,” he said.

Taylor sings about Australia in Yellow and Rose, a song he wrote in Sydney in the mid 90s. “Oh boy, Botany Bay, watching the water go by / Here’s your home so far away, here is a tear in your eye” and ‘Down under got the south side, this groovy crazy planet / Watching from the outside, its as smooth as a gravy sandwich”. The song opened up his second set but during interval he never left the stage, instead choosing to come to the front of the stage to talk with fans and sign autographs. “You’re a top bloke James,” a fan yelled from the audience.

James entertained the crowd, even with the new songs. “I know you didn’t come here to hear new music but they sound just like the old music,” he said. “I’ll get it over quick. Like ripping off a band-aid”. He then played Today Today Today, the lead song off his first album of original material in 13 years Before This World.

Before This World was a wonderful album full of songs that, like he says, “that sound just like the old music”. Unfortunately Taylor’s record label in Australia did a terrible job promoting the record, not even making media aware it existed. It was Taylor’s first number one record in America. It stiffed in Australia because no-one knew it was out. This tour may send fans out to discover it.

The new songs Today Today Today and the beautiful You And I Again slot in perfectly with the old songs and brought an up to date relevance to this legendary icon.

The performance is billed as James Taylor and his All-Star Band. Everybody in this band is somebody even if you don’t know their names. Michael Landau has played on albums by Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell and Glenn Frey, backing singers Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz both have solo recording deals and then there is the amazing Lou Marini on sax, Blue Lou from the original Saturday Night Live band and The Blues Brothers.

James Taylor set list, February 8, 2017, Melbourne:

Set 1
  • Wandering (from Gorilla, 1975)
  • Secret O’ Life (from JT, 1977)
  • Everyday (from That’s Why I’m Here, 1985)
  • Walking Man (from Walking Man, 1974)
  • Today Today Today (from Before This World, 2015)
  • Copperline (from New Moon Shine, 1991)
  • Carolina On My Mind (from James Taylor, 1968)
  • Country Road (from Sweet Baby James, 1970)
  • (I’ve Got To) Stop Thin’ Bout That (from New Moon Shine, 1991)
  • Shed A Little Light (from New Moon Shine, 1991)
Set 2
  • Yellow and Rose (from Hourglass, 1997)
  • Up On The Roof (from Flag, 1979)
  • You’ve Got A Friend (from Mud Slim Slime and the Blue Horizon, 1971)
  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight (from One Man Dog, 1972)
  • Sweet Baby James (from Sweet Baby James, 1970)
  • Streamroller (from Sweet Baby James, 1970)
  • Mexico (from Gorilla, 1975)
  • Fire and Rain (from Sweet Baby James, 1970)
  • Your Smiling Face (from JT, 1977)
Encore
  • Knock On Wood (from Other Covers, 2009)
  • How Sweet It Is (from Gorilla, 1975)
  • You And I Again (from Before This World, 2015)

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