“With a holy host of others standing ‘round me, still I’m on the dark side of the moon,” sang James Taylor last night at the Bell Centre. Those lyrics suddenly had meaning for audience members, because before performing his indelible song, Carolina in my Mind, Taylor told us that in ’68, after false musical starts in America, he’d gone over to London to try his luck, and wound up being the first artist signed to the Beatles’ record label, Apple.
That “holy host” referred to in Carolina in my Mind, is the Beatles themselves, hovering, inspiring, and unable to tear James Taylor from the longing he had to be back home. When relaying these tales to us, his voice was as surprised as we were to hear this rare archive, in a tone of “I still can’t believe that happened to me.” Taylor is as grandiose as he is humble, magnanimous as he is meek.
He may have had a career that began in the 60’s, but unlike many of his musical peers, James Taylor is not on the tour circuit to peddle past pop songs. Releasing his latest album, Before This World, just last year, he is far from an outdated sixties crooner coming to Montreal to revive old glories. Though his performance was peppered with many of his classics, he was bringing his entire career with him, a career still unfolding, songs that are still being written and reworked.
Touring with what was accurately billed as his “all-star band,” James took time out of performing his two sets to introduce all of his players by name (violin, horn section, backup singers and two percussionists, along with sizzling lead guitar, and cool bass), going over and shaking their hands in gratitude and appreciation.
Respecting his Quebecois audience enough to address them endearingly in French, Taylor went back and forth from sitting on a bar stool with his intimate acoustic, strumming old ballads, to plugging in his electric and ripping through a hilariously exaggerated version of his crunchy, bluesy, face-melting Steamroller. Taylor also shared a story about Babe Ruth being traded from the Boston Red Sox and cursing the town, before breaking into a troubadour-style song about the game itself.
Rocking out to Buddy Holly’s Roller coaster, giving us a Pink Floyd cover when the audience was screaming for an encore, chatting and cracking jokes on the stage, he had the audience dancing, crying, swaying, roaring, and falling more in love with him than we thought possible.
The Bell Centre knows how to put on a performance, and the light show was comparable to American holiday fireworks. Taylor had the magical ability of shrinking that vast stadium into the size of his own backyard, and there we were under the stars, letting him sing us his lullabies and tell us his most loved stories.
A night with James Taylor was something you don’t forget so soon.