There are some performers who are like old friends, that you’ve seen so many times that you feel like you know them. Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor are firmly established in that category for me. After the Boss and maybe Elvis Costello, I’ve seen Bonnie and JT live more than anyone else. They have much in common: great voices, a warm stage presence, and great bands behind them. It was special to see them sharing the stage at the Prudential Center Thursday night.
Bonnie started off the evening (promptly, I might add) with a condensed one hour set that deftly mixed old material with songs from her most recent album Dig In Deep. She is a rare combination of virtuosity both in her singing and slide guitar playing. Her voice is one of the best in music; sweet but husky, and she has impeccable control in both volume and pitch. Her long time band matches her lick for lick. As of this writing a set list was not available, but I’ll give you what I’ve got. Her cover of INXS’s need you tonight pulses with sexual longing. When Bonnie sings “There’s something about you that makes me sweat” you believe it. The reggae tinged “Have A Heart” from Nick of Time was wonderful, as was John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”. The Los Lobos tune ‘Shakin Shakin Shakes” shook the joint. James Taylor joined her to trade vocals on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” during the encore. Only her preachiness between songs dropped by grade from A to A-.
After a very reasonable 35 minute break (you know what I’m talking about if you saw my Dead & Co. and U2 reviews) James Taylor came out, starting with a short video introduction. It was different to see James inside with video screens; almost every time I’ve seen him, other than the Carole King tour at MSG, has been outside at PNC.
James gave us a heavy dose of songs from his early days, starting with “Carolina On My Mind” and “Country Roads”. We would get plenty of early material later on, with wonderful renditions of “Something in the Way She Moves”, “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain”. As many times as JT has played these songs, he never phones it in. His band is wonderful. Masters Steve Gadd and Luis Conti handle the percussion, well, masterfully. His backing vocalists show others how it should be done.
After a strong start I thought the set bogged down a little with some grade B material, all of which was beautifully played. The closing sequence of “Shed a Light” through “How Sweet It Is” was very enjoyable, and got the audience singing along, and jumping to their feet (still mellowly, though).
The encore put a wonderful cap on the evening. Bonnie Raitt joined James on stage for a rocking “Johnny B Goode”. The inevitable “You’ve Got A Friend” was followed by Bonnie returning to send us home with the beautiful lullaby “You Can Close Your Eyes”. I was moved, not the least because I used to sing it to my kids at bedtime when they were young.
Overall, JT may be the musical equivalent of comfort food, but it’s the best comfort food you ever ate.
James Taylor’s Set List
Carolina in My Mind
Never Die Young
First of May
(Jimmy Jones cover)
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
Jump Up Behind Me
Something in the Way She Moves
Sweet Baby James
Fire and Rain
Shed a Light
Shower The People
Your Smiling Face
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
(Marvin Gaye cover)
Johnny B. Goode
(Chuck Berry cover)
You’ve Got a Friend
(Carole King cover)
You Can Close Your Eyes
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