Tuesday, July 18, 2017

At Wrigley, a Taylor-Made, First-Raitt Double Play -- James Taylor & Bonnie Raitt -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

James Taylor
w/ opening act Bonnie Raitt
Wrigley Field, Chicago
July 17, 2017
@@@@1/2 (for each and both)

I've never owned a James Taylor album, not even his Greatest Hits.

Although he's been a popular singer for my entire life, his initial height of fame coincided with my infancy and toddlerhood.

And when in the late '70s, my dad (or I myself) saw fit to add new LPs by Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and others to the old icebox that served as the family's record cabinet, even as 1977's JT became Taylor's best-selling album, he didn't make it to our turntable.

I knew & liked a few of his ubiquitous songs--"Carolina in My Mind," "Fire and Rain," "You've Got a Friend," "Up on the Roof"--enjoyed his candid interviews with Howard Stern and respected his talent, popularity & longevity, but couldn't really call myself a fan. 

Last year, James Taylor played Chicago's Wrigley Field--my favorite place on Earth and now my favorite concert venue--with Jackson Browne, who I like considerably more, and I didn't feel compelled to go.

But with Monday's Wrigley show--opened by another legend, Bonnie Raitt--clearly not selling like Cubs World Series tickets, I couldn't pass on LiveNation's offer of $20 tickets during a promotion back in May.

Blessed with another beautiful night at the Friendly Confines--I've been extremely lucky across a string of outdoor shows--I very much enjoyed approximately 3 hours of stellar music by two old pros.

At about 7:15pm, Taylor surprised the gathering crowd by nonchalantly walking onstage first, the famed Red Sox fan adorned in a Cubs cap.

But at that point he served to simply offer a welcome and introduce his longtime friend, Raitt.

Backed by a fine band, Bonnie began with the first two songs off her 2016 Dig in Deep album, the fine "Unintended Consequence of Love" and a cover of INXS' "Need You Tonight."

As with Taylor, my fandom of Raitt is more passively appreciative than acutely intensive, but I quite liked her hour-long opening set.

Along with being an excellent guitarist, she has always heavily recorded songs written by others, and it was nice to hear her deliver Taylor's "Rainy Day Man" and John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," both coming from her 1974 Streetlights album.

"Something to Talk About," a cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" and the title song of 1989's Grammy-winning Nick of Time--the latter accompanied by vocalist Arnold McCuller, who has long worked with Raitt but is touring in Taylor's band--were also delights.

It was cool of the headliner to join Raitt for her closing "Thing Called Love" about a half-hour before he and his "All-Star Band" took their places in center field.

So even before Taylor began his 2-hour show with "Carolina in My Mind," it was clear that at age 67 he remains in fine form, vocally and on guitar.

I had done a good bit of Spotifamiliarization based on recent setlists, and the legendary singer/songwriter largely hewed to what he's been performing on his current tour. (See the Chicago setlist here.)

Though both Raitt and he had openly referenced and congratulated the Cubs, it was a bit odd--yet also apt given the ballpark setting--that Taylor opted to perform his Red Sox tribute "Angels of Fenway," backed by video from Boston's drought-ending championship in 2004, but without any Cubs visuals tacked on to elicit a hometown roar.

And while it had been played last year at Wrigley and isn't a staple on the current tour, "Up on the Roof" would've seemed an obvious choice--heck, maybe even from a rooftop--but was omitted.

But otherwise, although James Taylor is clearly more mellow than most of my favorites--hence, for me, this show could never quite rival those by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, U2, Paul McCartney, etc.--he is terrific at what he does, and the well-paced show was excellent.

I appreciated his good-natured comments and stories that included noting how playing "Something in the Way She Moves" for Paul McCartney and George Harrison got him signed to Apple Records and jump-started his long career. (The song, played after that intro on Monday, also inspired Harrison to write "Something.")

Accompanied throughout by nice visuals, Taylor and Co.--including Blues Brothers sax player Lou Marini and many other first-rate musicians and vocalists--sounded wonderful in the open air on "Sweet Baby James," "Fire and Rain," "Shed a Little Light," "Shower the People," "Your Smiling Face" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)."

For the encores, Raitt returned to help pay tribute to the recently passed Chuck Berry with a romp through "Johnny B. Goode," and after Taylor delivered a sublime "You've Got a Friend," Bonnie came back to end the night alongside James on "You Can Close Your Eyes."

Certainly, it would only make sense that my enjoyment wasn't quite on par with fans who have followed Taylor since his self-titled debut in 1968.

But while preferring a good bit more guitar crunch, as well as setlist "Tayloring" to befit the venue, my appreciation for both Taylor and Raitt was considerably heightened in seeing both live for the first time.

And in leaving my seat in the first row of the upper deck and heading down to exit the park, I encountered a group of fans gathered in front of a TV on the concourse, watching the Cubs trying to put away the Atlanta Braves in the 9th inning. Before I got there, a 4-1 lead had become 4-3 and closer Wade Davis wound up loading the bases.

But as the final out was recorded to seal the win, about a hundred of us cheered as if the Cubs had just won a playoff game, and walking outta Wrigley a spontaneous "Go Cubs Go" erupted.

How sweet it was, indeed.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Thanks for the Taylor made review!