James Taylor certainly knows how to draw a crowd.
Saturday night saw a multitude descend upon SPAC to see the Capital Region’s favorite next-door neighbor perform his greatest hits. This is not an exaggeration. Even Taylor himself commented on it at one point.
“Wow, look at this,” Taylor mused as he reviewed the set list. “Hit after hit after hit!”
He opened with “Something in the Way She Moves,” the song that launched his career—and incidentally inspired George Harrison’s “Something,” which cribbed the title as its first line—on an upstart London-based record label called Apple. Eschewing an opening act (this crowd needed no warming up), Taylor mined his catalogue of mellow folk-rock, particularly the 1970 Sweet Baby James, which provided five songs: “Lo and Behold,” “Country Road,” “Steamroller Blues,” “Fire and Rain,” and the title cut.
Taylor is a great live entertainer. With only a few exceptions, he stuck exclusively to hits scored during the ’70s and ’80s. This is not to say that he’s going through the motions. “Mexico,” for example, featured brassy horns and an extraordinary Cuban percussionist. The first encore of the evening, Taylor’s cover of the Marvin Gaye/Junior Walker hit “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” spotlighted his backup vocalists and had an exuberant gospel-inspired coda.
Despite his massive popularity and constant presence on the charts during the ’70s and ’80s—or perhaps because of it—Taylor became something of a punchline among those who fancied themselves hip. After all, he made the kind of music that your mom and dad liked. Nevertheless, Taylor remains a solid musician and songwriter with an appealing tenor voice that has been undiminished by time; the swarm of humanity that packed the amphitheater and surrounding grounds on Saturday night spanned generations, testifying to JT’s broad appeal.
For nearly three hours James Taylor rocked the house. The delighted fans cheered every number. No matter how you look at it, that’s pretty damn cool.