“This is a really big room you have here,” James Taylor noted early in his April 29 concert at Verizon Arena. But then he proceeded to perform and relate to the crowd like he was in a tiny coffeehouse. This was an intimate concert even with 6,863 in attendance; arena officials unexpectedly had to open one end of the upper bowl and sell more tickets when demand exceeded intended supply.
The larger-than-expected crowd is clear proof of Taylor’s staying power. Since he hit the big-time with “Sweet Baby James” in 1970, Taylor has almost always been a big seller — topping the 1 million mark with albums earlier this century that included no radio hits.
Another thing besides scads of material being a pop icon for 40-plus years will get you? The ability to recruit a fabulous band. This group was billed as “His Legendary Band,” and while not household names, these musicians were top-notch. Very tasty guitar work by Mike Landau, steady bass from Jimmy Johnson and a rock-solid performance from Chad Wackerman on drums and Luis Conte on all manner of percussion highlighted the night, meshing perfectly with Taylor’s patented straightforward, pleasant, melodic style.
But what really set this band apart were the four back-up singers, who were used in every imaginable configuration — all, none or various combinations. Arnold McCuller has been touring with Taylor for more than 30 years, and his work on “Shower the People” was a goose bump-generating run of vocal gymnastics. Andrea Zahn played fiddle as well as sang, and she was there solo to support JT on a few numbers. And the predictable highlight of the night — the still gut-wrenching “Fire and Rain” — came with no back-up singing help and little in the way of instrumentation beyond Taylor’s strumming.
— Kelley Bass