Carole King & James Taylor
at the TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
(19 June 2010)

Singer-songwriters Carole King and James Taylor first appeared together in concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, California, in 1970. In honor of that event 40 years ago (!), the duo launched a Troubadour Reunion Tour in 2010. That title delightfully paid homage not only to the historic nightclub, but also to Carole and James and their embodiments as "troubadours" themselves: as minstrels, lyric-poets and poet-musicians. The audience was sure to be in for an evening of classic entertainment.

The in-the-round stage served to transform the cavernous sports arena into a more intimate venue. One edge was rimmed with a series of floor-level, candle-toting lounge tables, where lucky premium ticket holders had special front-row seats to the show. Presumably that setup was intended to mirror the atmosphere of the original Troubadour. But since the disc-like stage revolved ever-so-slowly throughout the evening, no one in the house ever had an over-the-shoulder view for very long.

Carole, now 68, strode up to the stage wearing a black dress and heels. By her side was 62-year-old James in a blue shirt, sleek trousers and a black jacket. They took their assigned spaces: she, seated at a shiny black grand piano; he with his guitar, couched comfortably within the natural curve of the Yamaha keyboard. And instead of starting us off with any further thunderous fanfare (for we had already greeted them with a deafening standing ovation), they eased into one of James's quiet tunes, "Something in the Way She Moves." Carole's harmony blended perfectly with James's melody. Instantly, a lot of smiles appeared.

That's how the evening began, and that's how it continued. The stars alternated songs and sang along on each other's creations. They led us from soft selections to bouncy ones and then brought us back down to earth again. Their intertwining voices often seemed as one. They were accompanied by their original band: Danny Kortchmer on electric guitar, Lee Sklar on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums. A trio of vocalists added flavor to the choruses and miscellaneous instruments to the arrangements. Everyone looked as though they were having great fun.

The music continued with "So Far Away," "Machine Gun Kelly," "Carolina in My Mind" and "Way over Yonder." James took off his jacket, and Carole left the piano and donned a guitar in order to get down and boogie with James and Danny on "Smackwater Jack." Next up were "Country Road," "Sweet Seasons" and "Mexico." James was the one who most often offered commentary between selections. Boston is, after all, one of his hometowns, and he therefore assumed host duties this evening. He mentioned the serendipity he and Carole experienced in writing similar lyrics, as he introduced her "Song of Long Ago," which segued into his "Long Ago & Far Away." He described two more songs that went together as "hymns for agnostics" -- Carole's "Beautiful" and his "Shower the People." The first set ended with "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and another ovation. Aretha would have been proud.

After a 10-minute intermission, the cast came back in more casual garb, with most of them wearing jeans. James wore his jaunty hat as well. They gave us "Where You Lead," "Crying in the Rain" and "Your Smiling Face." James told the story of the birth of his namesake nephew and his need to write "a cowboy lullaby" for the little tyke. The result, of course, was "Sweet Baby James." The New England audience cheered raucously over the line that described the snow on "the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston." (Many would use that same route to return home.) The rousing "Jazzman" was next, with Kortchmer echoing the original saxophone strain through the strings of his electric guitar. The pace slowed down once again as Carole and James sang a duet version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." They got another ovation for their efforts.

It was at that point that the evening began to build to its noticeable and ultimate crescendo. James's "Steamroller" was an immediate crowd-clapping pleaser that showcased his blues-picking ability and his prowess with a harmonica. Carole's "It's Too Late" featured a nice guitar solo by Kortchmer. Then James noodled around on the frets a bit before launching into the intro for one of the most recognizable pieces of our generation, "Fire & Rain." Many folks, both men and women, had to wipe their eyes for the song's duration. The melody took us back to our own pasts and to what we probably considered in hindsight to have been better and simpler times. And yet the song transcended the 1970s and hit us squarely in middle age and the 21st century with its now more meaningful conclusion: "But I always thought that I'd see you again." Decades and people have long since passed. No wonder grown men wept. No wonder we once again rose in grateful approval at this poignant musical and lyrical artistry.

But Carole grounded us in turn and made us instead feel merry and light with "I Feel the Earth Move." She herself got up from the piano and bounded across the stage. Knowing her own thread-bare status in the Garden as a native New Yorker, she punctuated her own ovation with a shout of "Boston Rocks!" The crowd cheered in response.

The main portion of the concert ended the only way it could: with Carole and James singing together on "You've Got a Friend." She wrote the song. He made it famous. That's all that needs to be said.

The entire entourage came back for an encore that began with "Up on the Roof," yet another tune that Carole had penned and James had popularized. Then it was time for some major audience participation in "How Sweet It Is." By now, we knew that we had heard and seen everything that we had expected to hear and see. Why not celebrate by bellowing the line "How sweet it is to be loved by you!" along with thousands of other voices, on measured command? At that point, who was singing to whom? Did it even matter?

The band receded into the darkness and left Carole and James alone to provide us with our own send-off lullaby, "You Can Close Your Eyes." The refrain of this written collaboration brought forth almost as much emotion and speculation as "Fire & Rain" had, moments earlier. "So close your eyes, you can close your eyes, it's all right / I don't know no love songs and I can't sing the blues anymore / But I can sing this song and you can sing this song when I'm gone."

These veteran performers looked great, they sounded great and their music was as moving as ever. What a joy to witness an event in which all of the participants fully liked and respected one another!

If all you know of Carole and James is their music, you might consider reading Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon & the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller (Washington Square Press, 2009). Within those pages you'll discover James Taylor's role in each woman's life, both musically and personally. The book is also a great retrospective of the popular music scene of the 1960s and '70s.

While a King-Taylor Live at the Troubadour CD and DVD combo set is available for purchase, the recordings don't include everything that the audiences witnessed in person. But at its core, you don't have to buy anything new to revisit this wonderful, timeless music. Dig out your old records/tapes/CDs of Carole King's Tapestry and James Taylor's Greatest Hits (the white album). Put them in shuffle mode, turn up the volume and let the sound waves stir your imagination. You'll come surprisingly close to re-creating that night at the Garden. That's one final testimony to the enduring professionalism and musical talent of Carole King and James Taylor, both as individuals and as a singing-songwriting team.

by Corinne H. Smith
21 August 2010

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