Thursday, July 31, 2003

James Taylor gives rabid fans a mellow night

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Portions of James Taylor's performance were as uneventful as the intermission he took. But in the end, after three encores, you have to give it to Taylor, the godfather of sensitive singer-songwriters, and call the Tuesday-night Riverbend stop a major success.

The concert was a near-sellout, the fans were as rabid as the music was mellow, and Taylor responded to the cheers and standing ovations with all sorts of demonstrative behavior. One moment he was rolling around on the ground with his acoustic guitar as if he were the last of the wild blues players. A few minutes later he slumped on a stool (the one he pulls up for the extra-sensitive numbers) looking like he was about to burst into tears.

Those moments framed a four-song block that was as engaging as any part of the show. The bluesy "Steam Roller" was mainly a showcase for his large all-star band, which included session drummer Steve Gadd and Blues Brothers saxophonist Lou Marini.

But by the end of the song the 55-year-old Taylor had upstaged all of the soloists and whipped up the crowd by contorting his face in a bluesy manner, howling gutturally, and beating on his guitar and stomping and rolling all over the stage.

After the song he referred to Gadd and percussionist Luis Conte as "the musical equivalent of the Cincinnati Reds." Either Taylor hasn't been keeping up with the sports page and he meant that as a compliment, or he's about to do his rhythm section the same way John Allen did his GM and manager.

Taylor then slowed it down for "Carolina in My Mind," "Up on the Roof" (with Marini switching to flute) and a stool moment, "Fire and Rain." The crowd gave the latter a standing-O, and Taylor appeared to be overcome by emotion. Or perhaps a bug flew into his mouth when he sang the last note.

Not everything was so memorable. If someone incorrectly believes the intermission lasted for 30 minutes, that person should be excused. It was only 20 minutes, but the 10 minutes that followed - in the form of the soft-rocking "Jump Up Behind Me" and the new song "My Traveling Star" - provided as much enjoyment as standing in a beer line.

Redemption came by encore-time, and the crowd wouldn't Taylor leave. "Mexico" and "Your Smiling Face" came first, followed by a cover of "In the Midnight Hour" in the second encore and "Sweet Baby James" in the third.


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