Mar 9, 2011

The Night James Taylor Brought Everything Back Home

Below is the concert review I wrote for Click here to view the original article.

“ I must have written about 150 songs,” according to James Taylor as he addressed the largest capacity crowd in DeVos Performance Hall on Tuesday evening. “ I feel like I have written the same 5 types of songs 20 times,” as the crowd laughed in acknowledgement.  “ I love to write about songs about going home,” he noted.” From Carolina to
Copper Mine.”

As a James Taylor fan since my childhood days in Manila, he sure brought me back home to 6th grade when my cousin Ricky and I, with our pajamas on, would belt out Your Smiling Face from his 1977  “JT” album which also included Handy Man and Traffic Jam.

He opened the evening with his solo acoustic performance of Something in the way she moves; a classic JT love song about another on of his favorite topics to write about – girls. His son from Carly Simon, Ben, would join him two songs later when the father-son duo sang a Dangerous Girl,  a song Ben wrote about his dog.

I have never heard Ben perform, nor do I own any of his songs. But let me tell you this, Ben can hold his own next to his father. Ben Taylor is a cross between Paul Simon’s lyrical tone, Lighthouse Family’s Tunde Baiyewu’s sultry voice and Sting’s phrasing, all combined into one memorable voice on stage.

I was prepared to walk into the performance hall fashionably late, thinking that Ben would open, and 45 minutes later, it would be JT’s turn. That was not the case as Ben and JT took turns singing back up vocals as the other sang his respective songs.

The concessions sold concert t-shirts depicting a stick figure of a father holding on to his son.  As the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to 63 year-old JT, this symbolic passing of the torch to the next generation would only strengthen James Taylor’s legacy as one of the most successful composer/singer of all time.

JT brought the crowd to a standing ovation as he finished the first set about another song about coming home, Country Roads.

Ben opened the second set with Boyfriend – his straight guys take on finding the girlfriend’s boyfriend more attractive than her. This song certainly energized the crowd and showed Ben’s versatility and lightheartedness as a songwriter.

JT then performed Sweet Baby James, a song he composed as a lullaby for his nephew, which his brother aptly named after him. He followed that song with one of my favorite tunes, Up on the Roof. To me, this song wasn’t about the skyscrapers of New York, as JT described it, but it’s about sitting on the boat docks at the University of Iowa with my college best friend, Tim. He and I spent countless summer nights on that river dock as we contemplated life while listening to James Taylor on the big boom box we brought. Elementary school introduced me to James Taylor but it was in college when JT songs left their true marks with me.

Ben told the crowd that he always wanted to compose a patriotic song but when he encountered a songwriters’ block, he thought patriotically about singing about a girl, which resulted in the song, America. JT ended the main set with probably one of his most requested songs, Mexico (at least that’s what the audience was screaming the loudest).

A second standing ovation brought the band back for an encore in which JT and Ben concluded with two of JT’s biggest hits, Fire and Rain and How Sweet It Is. In the movie Remember the Titans, Fire and Rain was the track that played after Bertier, the Titan’s star linebacker, was injured in an unexpected car accident following their team’s regional championship victory.

“Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone…”

 I couldn’t help but think about the recent tragic death of the Fennville (Michigan) high school star athlete, Wes Leonard, who collapsed to his death a few seconds after making the winning lay-up to cap off a perfect 20-0 record for his basketball team. As Leonard’s hometown grieves the loss of one of their fallen heroes, Fire and Rain reminded us that life is fragile and moments such as this mild, winter evening in Grand Rapids, will always be remembered as the night James Taylor brought everything back home.

“Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought I’d see you again.”

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