James Taylor in concert
Yesterday morning at about 9 AM I got a call from my brother-in-law, who
advised that James Taylor would perform that night (May 6) in a live
broadcast from Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, that the total audience in the
hall would number in the low hundreds, and that he had seats if I wanted
to go. I did.
The concert was a dress rehearsal for the show Taylor will perform at
about 60 venues over the next few months, beginning with Dallas in about
2 days. Taylor's songs, new and old, are well-known, and my opinion is
that they're great songs. The band was up to Taylor's usual standard,
i.e. brilliant. Steve Gadd, the monster drummer behind Stuff and most
of Paul Simon's and Joni Mitchell's best known work, is in the band, as
are current studio bass favorite Jimmy Johnson, Mike Landau on guitar,
and Larry Golding on keyboards. They played the songs with enormous
intelligence. These players are capable of laying down plenty of power,
but they didn't lay it on from go. Gadd's playing was incredibly simple
and quiet for much of the night, but when he hit hard, the house rocked.
Landau was a key player; the overall sound of the songs is
guitar-driven. He used a Lexicon MPX1, a multiFX processor that's used
by lots of guitarists and relatively few harp players, to shape his tone
in ways that could be very instructive to many harmonica players.
Instead of establishing a "sound" and using it throughout a song (or,
God forbid, throughout the whole concert), he shifted between sounds and
playing techniques as the songs moved from section to section. A verse
might be finger-picked with a funky, chunky telecaster sound, or use a
volume pedal to make notes fade in and out in a way that suggested a
pedal steel; the next section of the song might feature big ringing
chords filtered through a chorus or flange effect. I got a look at
Landau's floor setup, and it mostly consisted of a single device
designed to send program changes messages to the Lexicon. Very simple,
but lots of tones.
It was a treat to hear Taylor in such a good-sounding venue with such a
small audience. I suspect it will be very enjoyable to see him and this
fine band at the venues they're playing on this tour.
Harmonica content: Taylor played about 3 measures of harmonica during
the second-to-last piece in his set, "Steamroller Blues."
Regards, Richard Hunter
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