James Taylor at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 6/14/2014
Photos by Jack Gorman
James Taylor and His All-Star Band June 14, 2014 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
The cougars were on the prowl at the Woodlands on Saturday night, where James Taylor and his All-Star Band played to an almost sold-out crowd. JT did not let them down. His resume highlights include being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, five Grammy Awards and numerous Top 10 singles and albums, but the 66-year-old also reminded the audience on a couple of occasions that he was the first artist signed to Apple Records, the Beatles' record label.
Taylor entered the stage waving and saluting the crowd, clad in gray jeans, a blue button-down shirt and navy sport coat. During the first three songs he appeared a bit stiff as he sat on his stool, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing familiar songs. To get a reprieve from the Houston humidity, he soon took off the blazer, rolled up his sleeves and let loose the remainder of the night. At times he looked to be in awe of the crowd's energy and excitement, and the audience really began to get engaged in the show about five songs in.
Taylor's All-Star Band consisted of 11 members, many of whom have had solid careers. In 20-plus songs lasting more than two and a half hours, bassist and leader Jimmy Johnson kept the group on point all night, no small task considering the band was comprised of a drummer, percussionist, horn section, lead guitarist, pianist and four backup singers.
Arguably the most intriguing and recognizable musician in the All-Star Band was Blue Lou Marini, not only due to the styling of his incredible mustache, unforgettable hair and armadillo print T-shirt, but also because he had his own fan club. This group of ten or so people, wearing customized Blue Lou T-shirts, cheered madly whenever their hero was placed under the spotlight for a solo. An original member of the Blues Brothers Band (yes, those Blues Brothers), Marini played several horns during the evening including the saxophone, flute and pennywhistle.
Approximately halfway through crowd favorite "Carolina In My Mind," the report of fireworks began echoing throughout the Pavilion and most of the audience began looking around trying to make sense of the noise. As the lyrics "and hey babe the sky's on fire" were being sung, the crowd erupted in a cheerful roar. Taylor broke into a slight laugh, and stated after the tune was over that he had been warned about the fireworks being set off that evening but it had slipped his mind.
He introduced "One More Go Round" as "a thumper...that's what happens when you start getting lyrically weak." The spunky tune had the American legend hopping on one leg playing his acoustic guitar and making metal faces; it was definitely a sight to behold. Taylor seemed to be truly happy playing to the crowd, as one of a dwindling number of artists who plays lengthy shows. The audience returned the favor by displaying the utmost respect to the band, keeping the talking to a minimum and delivering a standing ovation no less that seven times.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could learn a thing or two from Taylor. The man has the greatest eyebrows in show business. His voice was soulful and crisp, spot-on just as in his recordings, but his constant facial movements truly delivered the emotions in his songs. His brow cinched, eyebrows waved, forehead softened, and his eyes gently opened and closed; Taylor is definitely a master of his craft.
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"Oh wow, look at this. It's jam-packed to the seam with hits," Taylor playfully teased the crowd as he held the set list up to reveal the songs for the concert's second half. He also joked during intermission that the band just sits in the back, watches the clock and asks each other if 20 minutes is up yet. His sense of humor intertwines perfectly with his storytelling, with a standup comic's timing that plays right into the mood of the crowd. During most of the intermission, Taylor stayed by the edge of the stage signing autographs, posing for photographs and taking a few selfies with fans.
Before each song he would weave a tale about how it was created or with whom he had played it. The singalongs and storytelling kept the audience engaged the entire time. The biggest crowd pleasers were "Fire and Rain," "Mexico," "Carolina In My Mind" and "How Sweet It Is." During another favorite, "You've Got a Friend," security allowed a woman to walk up to the front row and drop a bouquet of flowers with a large note at his feet. Kudos to security for allowing her to do that, and also to her for not doing something dumb that would ruin someone else's opportunity to do that in the future.
There really is no other way to put it. James Taylor is a living legend. If you have never witnessed him play live, do no hesitate to jump on the opportunity the next time he returns to town...if for no other reason than to see the first artist signed to Apple Records.
The Crowd: Your mom and dad, and their mom and dad.
Overheard In the Crowd: A wife telling her husband, "You're going to have to drive home. I'm doing shots with JT after the show...out of my cleavage!"
SET LIST Something (Beatles cover) Today, Today, Today Lo and Behold Everyday (Buddy Holly cover) Country Road Millworker Never Die Young Carolina In My Mind One More Go Round Sweet Baby James You've Got a Friend
INTERMISSION Stretch of the Highway You and I Handy Man Hour That Morning Comes Steamroller Blues Only One Fire and Rain Up on the Roof Mexico Your Smiling Face
ENCORE How Sweet It Is Shower the People
ENCORE 2 Wild Mountain Thyme
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
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