June 2, 2003
Chastain Park Amphitheatre - Atlanta


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If you came to see James Taylor sounding like James Taylor, you weren’t disappointed. This was a mellow concert and a good fit for Chastain Park. By and large, it sounded exactly like the record, which pleased most of his fans. Just don’t expect a rock show from this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. The evening started with misleadingly up tempo bongos and drums for “First Of May,” but it didn’t take long to slide into the formula of playing the soothing, folksy acoustic guitar based songs that everyone knows. “Copperline” was an early highlight that just felt right, especially when you could look into the clear blue sky to see swallows flying and perhaps a lone airplane. Couples enjoyed a romantic evening out, munching expensive delicacies, their candles lending a holiday scent to the air. Then Taylor introduced his “new stuff that sounds just like the old stuff,” which it certainly did. “October Road” could become a classic, but of course it was the actual classics that the well-to-do crowd came to hear. The old favorite “Shower The People” was lukewarm, with a half-hearted clapping attempt by the audience midway through the song before it “kicked in,” relatively speaking. The more energetic people stood up to applaud. Now there was a noticeable shift toward song styles that defied categorization, except that they sounded like James Taylor with a few added flavors. “Hour That The Morning Comes” did sound like morning coming after an exhausting night of debauchery, with lethargic R&B undertones and instrumental passages that seemed drunk. I could imagine Elvis Presley delivering a more energetic version of this in his later years. “Mean Old Man” featured Taylor on “jazzy” piano instead of guitar, and it also had humorous lyrics about turning an old man into a golden retriever. There was also a new tune from the latest greatest hits compilation called “Bittersweet” that sounded vaguely country but with a Latin shuffle.

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A standout of the first set was “You’ve Got a Friend,” which worked perfectly because it didn’t even pretend to rock. It was pure, simple, heartfelt and the crowd cheered each time Taylor sang the title. This straightforward approach usually worked better than when the band spiced up his songs with ethnic or R&B touches, which seemed out of place for his velvety voice. At about this point I realized how closely he has come to resemble Robert Duvall (at least from a distance) and I became increasingly disturbed by this fact. That fact only become more surreal as “Shed A Little Light” morphed into an all out get up and testify, hand clapping number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Duvall’s movie, The Apostle. Just when things were getting good, the inexplicable happened…intermission! It sure wasn’t from rocking so hard that the musicians needed to catch their collective breath! Even Taylor admitted that he didn’t know why they needed a break, except that they’d always had one, and joked that it was to allow time for Botox injections. Maybe he did need a rest, because during the second set, he conjured more energy than before, dropping to his knees for “Steamroller” and even scat singing in a gruff voice. In this instance, the added horns worked well with his rougher vocals. This highlight of the entire show didn’t sound identical to the record. “Fire & Rain,” however, could have been pantomimed and no one would have noticed. Taylor then put a little passion into “Up on the Roof” and actually hopped about for a moment while cymbals crashed. A drunken female fan in the cheap seats danced as if her butt itched. “Carolina In My Mind” was back to the poignant and restrained and again found the audience singing along in full cry.


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By the time Taylor played “How Sweet It Is,” he and the audience were waking up. Everyone clapped along to the big finish as Taylor himself dropped to his knees. Then it was time for the encores. Things got festive for “Mexico,” with horns and Latin touches. Taylor was genuinely absorbed in the moment for a genuinely fun version of “Your Smiling Face,” ending once again on his knees. Now the crowd was wide-awake and ready to dance. But not so fast…first there was another break…then a soulful cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour,” followed by ANOTHER break before the final, final encore. The lull-a-bye “Sweet Baby James” was a perfect, subdued ending to a full night. As for me, I had wanted to see why Taylor’s a member of the Rock and Roll (not folk or singer-songwriter) Hall of Fame….and I still have no clue. Perhaps it’s his influence on everything and everyone that came after him. I do now understand why he is so loved. His unassuming demeanor along with his ability to relate universal emotions and intimate feelings with millions of fans is definitely intact. On the way out, I heard more than one person exclaim, “That was the best concert ever.” While I certainly can’t say that, I can say that it was a completely relaxing and satisfying night out.

 Amanda Stahl/concertshots.com

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