It’s been said before: Don’t count out legendary acts when it comes to delivering fantastic shows. And it was proven again when James Taylor & His All-Star Band rocked a jam-packed Hollywood Bowl with special guest Sheryl Crow on Thursday night.
Here are five key takeaways:
Stepping in without missing a beat: That’s exactly what Sheryl Crow did while subbing for original special guest Bonnie Raitt, who had to bow out of the summer tour’s first leg owing to an unexpected medical situation. During Crow’s well-paced and energetic hour-long show, the nine-time Grammy winner gifted baby-boomer and younger fans with her classic hits. Among them: “All I Wanna Do,” “My Favorite Mistake,” “If It Makes You Happy,” “Strong Enough” and “Soak Up the Sun” (which she introduced as the “ultimate California song”). Particularly moving was her performance of “Redemption Day.” Backed by a six-member band, the guitar-slinging Crow traded verses with Johnny Cash — via his recorded version of her song — as video images of Cash, soldiers and air strikes flashed across a giant screen. “I thought I’d play this while democracy is being stretched to the nth degree,” Crow told the audience.
Perfect pair: Crow’s show finale gave the audience a sneak peek at what was to come as Taylor joined her onstage for a rousing rendition of “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” The two complemented each other perfectly between their life-honed vocals and wicked guitar playing. Crow prefaced their performance by sharing a memory about the second concert she’d ever attended as a 15-year-old without a chaperone: Taylor’s Gorilla tour in the mid-’70s. “He was wearing a white suit and I was so sure I was going to marry him,” recalled Crow. “He’s still my favorite songwriter and singer.” Crow rejoined Taylor during his show’s encore, dueting and two-stepping on “Mockingbird” and “Close Your Eyes” before walking off the stage together arm in arm.
Taylor’s still got it: Even before he sang one note, Taylor stepped onstage to a standing ovation — one of several throughout the evening. He’s surely lost count of how many times he’s performed fan faves over the years such as “Fire & Rain,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “Handyman,” “Sweet Baby James,” Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” But his performance of these and other songs comprising a nearly two-hour set sounded just as fresh and dynamic as when he first recorded the songs. Centering on well-known entries in his repertoire, Taylor took the audience all the way back to 1968 with “Something in the Way She Moves” — the song he auditioned for Paul McCartney and George Harrison before he signed with Apple Records.
Amid frequent shout-outs of “we love you, James” from fervent female fans, Taylor’s journey down memory lane included “Carolina,” “Walking Man,” the bluesy “Steamroller,” “Mexico” and “Shower the People.” Video images accompanying the songs ranged from Taylor family and band member photos to a 1969 Sunset Boulevard billboard featuring Taylor at the beginning of his career. “Pretty much the rest of that decade is gone,” the self-deprecating artist noted of his memory to a laughing audience. At one point, cameras panned around the Bowl so the audience could see themselves dancing and cheering on the giant video screen. All told, Taylor demonstrated how he came to accomplish what he set out to do years ago as he noted early on in his show: “I just wanted to play music and travel.”
You’ve got friends: Tying everything together and upping the night’s fun quotient was Taylor’s ultra-tight all-star band. And no wonder, given a veteran lineup that includes drummer Steve Gadd, percussionist Luis Conte, saxophonist Lou Marini and keyboardist Kevin Hays. Violinist/backing vocalist Andrea Zonn also was a standout on the song “Country Road,” while Taylor’s longtime backing vocalist Arnold McCuller drew a standing ovation during his power-punching solo turn on “Shower the People.”
Admiration society: Watching fellow singer/songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne (“Running on Empty,” “Doctor My Eyes”) sing and bob along to the performances in the crowd was just as enjoyable as watching Crow and Taylor onstage.
Crow returns as Taylor’s special guest for his second Hollywood Bowl show on Friday night (June 1). Then Taylor and the band will head to Sacramento (Sunday), Portland, Oregon (Tuesday) and Seattle (Wednesday) before Raitt rejoins the tour for seven shows beginning in St. Paul, Minnesota (6/22).