James Taylor 6/22/2005: Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater, VIrginia Beach VA

What a difference a week makes. Seven days earlier I was ankle deep in mud on a mountainside in West Virginia at the All-Good festival, dodging the dreadlocks on the kid in front of me as he twirled from side to side as Les Claypool pelted our psyches with his devastating bass lines. Seven days later I was seated on a low-rise lawn-chair, as most of the people on the grass at the Virginia Beach Amphitheatre were, my bare-feet playing with the cool-dry grass, watching the sun lazily drift to it’s resting place for the evening behind the stage, as James Taylor serenaded us and sang sweet lullabies to soothe our souls after a long day spent getting sun-burnt on the beach.

The low-key relaxed air that emanated from those on the lawn, just as equally matched the low-key relaxed air on stage. Taylor and his band led the crowd on a leisurely stroll through his extensive repertoire. He displayed a Zen-like calm, that one can only achieve after playing “How Sweet it is (to be loved by you)” or “Steamroller” every night for the last thirty years, but this calm does not mean complicity. The chatter with the crowd (taking time to sign autographs during the show), and the long introductions to songs that are as familiar as family members kept things from sounding stale.

Taylor’s band of seasoned musicians also helps in keeping the songs sounding fresh each night. Drummer Steve Gadd’s (of Steely Dan fame) strong percussive work gave presence to the mostly acoustic songs (to bear witness listen to his sly outro at the end of “Country Road”). Andrea Zonn’s Irish-jig fiddle solo before “Water is Wide” even had Taylor smiling with appreciation. And besides, how can any song ever sound stale when they have “Blue” Lou Merlini from one of the all-time great bands, The Blues Brothers, on horn? (For those unsure with what I mean, take out your copy of the Blues Brothers movie, fast forward to the scene with Aretha Franklin singing and observe “Blue” Lou ripping it up as he plays while standing on the counter top in a diner.)

Despite being one of the flag-bearers of the 1970’s sensitive singer/songwriter “folk” sound, Taylor has always written ultra catchy hummable pop songs disguised as folk songs. “Sweet Baby James,” which has moved from it’s traditional spot a the end of the encore to the role of second set show stopper this tour, has shed much of it’s original sparse arrangement in favor of bouncy summer breeze kind of feel. Long time favorite “Mexico” has blossomed into a rave-up shot of adrenaline (well, at least as adrenalized as a sedate crowd that remains seated and sprawled on blankets the whole time can get).

Taylor has shown a bit more of a “rocking” side recently (again as rocking as a 57 year-old, balding man, in jeans, loafers, and a button-down shirt with an acoustic guitar can get), strapping on an electric guitar for a couple of tunes, adding Ray Charles numbers, “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles” and “Everybody has the Blues” to the set. And even throwing in a cover of original rock rebel Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blue,” which ended with a Pete Towshend worthy leap.

Taylor’s folk side was not forgotten though, as a seated solo rendition of “Fire & Rain” which closed out the first set showcased this and moved me to silence (no small feat). It has never mattered what arrangement Taylor applied to his songs, because in the end it has always been his voice that has been the strongest instrument and the center of all that he does. As my Mom so eloquently said to me during the second set, as an impassioned version of “Carolina on my mind” was drawing to a close, “The show is so pure, it’s just his voice up front, none of that shit in the background.”

Encoring with “Up on the Roof” and “Summertime Blues,” Taylor brought the evening to a close on a “pure” note, as he, his guitar, and just his back up singers bade us good-bye with an almost a cappella version of “Close your eyes,” which had me closing my eyes and wondering

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide