James Taylor opens tour at New Jersey’s Prudential Center

Bonnie Raitt joins Taylor on the tour

There is a moment when every concert starts: The moment as the artist walks out, but before they open their mouth. During this moment, you pray to the rock gods that the icon will sound just as you know them to sound. That prayer was answered as soon as James Taylor opened his mouth Thursday night (July 6th) at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. It was the opening concert of a 17-city tour that will see the legend performing in arenas and stadiums.

Appearing with his 15-piece All-Star Band, Taylor opened the concert with just himself and a guitar, singing “Carolina In My Mind.” The band layered itself under Taylor throughout the first and second song, hitting a full stride by the end of “Country Road”.

The band was used sparingly, often rarely acting as more than an accent to Taylor’s inimitable vocals and deceptively simple guitar playing. James Taylor and his fans are certainly not hard rockers. The night’s wildest songs were, “Mexico” and the R&B parody “Steamroller Blues”. Hardly head-banging anthems, but that’s not the point of James Taylor’s music.

James Taylor’s ability to move his fans is not in adrenaline-fueled arena anthems, something maybe a little to common with his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame counterparts. Rather, his fans find the beauty in his lyrics, and a voice so communicative it feels like he is speaking to you personally. Taylor’s beautifully nasal, nearly chewed-out vocals filled every crevice of the Prudential Center, traveling to the corners of the back walls, off the ceiling, and reverberating into 17,000 people’s ears. To hear every word of every song is a rarity for an arena concert.

The stage was set up with moving screens that displayed graphics, lyrics, and even cute videos of Taylor and his family. Stylized lamps were positioned to frame the All-Star Band. Whether it was coincidence or not, the lamp heads appeared to be peace signs, a perfect allusion to Taylor’s pacifism. The artist himself used a stool and bank of two guitar stands as home base. If a song necessitated he stand and move, Taylor would push the black stool out of the way. He’d always find his way back to it, clutching it as he climbed on, like some kind of musical buoy.

The night’s most awkward moments were when the music stopped, as Taylor frequently switched guitars, either by using the stands near to him, or with a technician bringing on another instrument. Sometimes, this threw him and left him trying to cover for dead air by grabbing for words like a high schooler mustering up the courage to ask his crush out. Admittedly, this is part of his harm. Taylor used these switches to show off his folksie conversational nature with stories delivered so earnestly, he sounded almost as if he had an Irish brogue.

Fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2000 inductee Bonnie Raitt joins Taylor on this tour. Her style is an equal measure of strong original songs and covering obscure works by giving them new life. Her catalogue and decades-long career brands her somewhere between a more-mainstream Patti Smith and a less famous Stevie Nicks. And while she, her band, and her sultry voice were on point, it still wasn’t a strong enough sound to fill the arena during her opening set.

I hardly blame her though: She walked out with little fanfare to a less-than-receptive crowd that appeared at times to be straining to hear her, or ignoring her all-together. She grabbed them though, and earned a two-minute standing ovation with the beautiful “Angel from Montgomery”. James Taylor made a cameo at the close of her set, just before the intermission.

Taylor and Raitt finished the night together in an encore one can imagine was very similar to the way they began their individual careers: alone on stage, just a bar stool, a microphone, and a guitar. And all that was left to bare were their voices.

Author: Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.