With his All-Star Band or just his acoustic guitar, James Taylor treated Rod Laver Arena to a memorable performance full of his greatest hits
Before Justin Timberlake, there was James Taylor, himself a devastatingly handsome man in his youth, and now, at 68 and favouring chinos and flat caps, looking more like your dear old uncle who enjoys a spot of bird-watching.
Sure, he might not have quite the same vim and vigour as Springsteen, but what matters most is that Taylor’s voice, that plaintive, clear croon, is in stellar form, miraculously unravaged by time and his 20-year heroin addiction, and it’s for this reason that he’s still attracting huge audiences wherever he goes.
He’s got a relatively recent album, 2015’s decent Before this World (his first US no. 1), but, in his own words, fans “didn’t come here to listen to any goddamn new music.”
He played just three new songs; the rest was hit after hit, from the timeless Carolina In My Mind, a show highlight, to his best-known Carole King cover, You’ve Got A Friend (“I was so excited the first time I played this song, not knowing then I’d be playing it every night for the rest of my goddamn life.”) to a Latino version of Mexico, aided by his Cuban percussionist Luis Conte, and the still-breathtaking Fire And Rain.
On occasion he’d slip on his electric guitar and shuffle across the stage with enthusiasm (and the odd, adorable, end of song kick-jump), but Taylor is that rare entertainer who need barely move to hold crowd attention. His band (and he graciously, generously introduced each and every one of them, encouraging us to buy their music) were studio-terrific, particularly guitarist Michael Landau, drummer Chad Wackerman (“with that name, could he be anything other than a drummer?”) and fiddle player and vocalist Andrea Zonn.
But even on his own, seated on his stool with just an acoustic guitar, as per Sweet Baby James, Taylor is never anything less than captivating, testament to both the quality of his songs and that voice.
The arena was a sea of mostly grey heads bobbing along and hanging on his every word, occasionally screaming out some inanity, as Aussie crowds tend to do, to which Taylor replied with typical good humour.
As a folkie, Taylor’s not as big a household name as say, Springsteen. But his importance should not be underestimated. Carolina In My Mind was recorded while homesick in London, sharing a studio with The Beatles (the opening lyric of George Harrison’s Something is taken directly from Taylor’s Something in the Way She Moves), and guess who Tay-Tay was named after? That’s right. Sweet Baby James.
Funny, humble, and sounding as good as ever, James Taylor put on the sort of show that will, like his songs, live long in the memory.
Words by Annabel Ross
Image by Alana Aphoy
Highlight: Carolina In My Mind.
Lowlight: Crazy lines at the bar during intermission.
Crowd favourite: Fire And Rain.