No "Fire and Rain"? Does James Taylor's not playing that 1970 breakthrough single constitute a deal-breaker for attendees of a JT show? It remains his signature tune, an autobiographical processing of psychiatric-hospital stays, substance abuse, band breakup, suicide; and it's got that chorus-clincher "But I always thought that I'd see you again" which resonated so poignantly at, say, the post-9/11 Concert for New York City.
And sure, it was missed at Taylor's two-hour, two-set show Sunday night at the Mann Center - but the JT faithful are an easygoing lot, and the singer-songwriter doled out many other crowd-pleasing cuts.
It's also known that this current 34-city "James Taylor and His Band of Legends" tour is showcasing many of the covers already recorded for a forthcoming album. And it's a return to his large-band format after the just-James focus of recent years, which culminated in November with the release of
One Man Band
, a live career-retrospective CD/DVD executive-produced by Sydney Pollack, the Academy Award-winning director who died Thursday.
The 60-year-old soft-rock/folk-pop icon and the 11 veteran musicians backing him (each of their names conveniently displayed near their places on the big-band-style stage set) ably handled a variety of musical styles, everything still sounding like James Taylor. The lanky front man started singing too early on Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," but soon was hitting extended notes - "still on the li-i-ne" - in his trademark soothing tones.
Thus began the first set's countrified midsection, which included George Jones' 1955 hit "Why, Baby, Why" followed by "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' " ("sort of a Broadway stage idea of a country song," noted Taylor, introducing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that opens the musical
). Taylor had full vocal confidence by then - the show tune had more verve than the Jones song, and his succeeding rendition of Buddy Holly's 1958 early rock goldie "Everyday" had him smoothing away the original's light hiccup-y phrasing and taking his own engaging melodic liberties.
He later mustered Daryl Hall-worthy melismatic soul on his own Grammy-winning, Carole King-penned No. 1 hit "You've Got a Friend." And he waxed eccentric on the second set's highlight, a noisy take of Taylor's "Steamroller Blues" allowing guitarist Mike Landau to rage on his 50th birthday. And who can hate a guy pacing his show with between-song banter that recalled the amiable sputter of vintage Bob Newhart?