While taking in James Taylor’s 110-minute set inside KeyBank Center on Monday night, I kept referring back to what Henry Hill said about Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece “GoodFellas.” He said, “Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody,” which is exactly how I would describe Taylor’s take on performing live in 2021. He told stories, sipped water, and introduced every member of his 13-piece band with less urgency than the Buffalo Bills have exhibited in their past eight games, but, like Paulie, the fact that Taylor has sold 100 Million albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 means that he doesn’t really have to move for anybody.
Before you start coming after me for being negative, cool out and understand that I’m not saying that his methodical approach impeded my ability to enjoy the show. Actually, it was refreshing to see an artist savor the moment and give the songs time to breathe, because so much of our life in the social media age is about moving on to the next thing without ample time to process what we just experienced. Every piece was meticulously played and Taylor’s casual demeanor went a long way towards making the last show of the tour feel special.
“Country Road,” “Copperline,” and “That’s Why I’m Here” showcased the pensive songwriting that fans love, but the tasty licks on “Steamroller Blues” represented the first moment where everyone in the band was able to let their hair down and jam out. Taylor’s vocal expertly skewered the appropriation of the genre by the white bluesmen of the ’60s and ’70s and remains my favorite song from his catalog.
The second half of the set was laden with hits, as “Fire and Rain,” “Carolina in My Mind,” and “Shower the People” brought a tinge of gospel to the proceedings with angelic harmonies from Kate Markowitz, Arnold McCuller, Dorian Holley, and Henry Taylor. As someone whose interest in Taylor’s oeuvre rarely extends past the first four albums, even I couldn’t help but be moved by how beautifully everything was presented and the fact that Irondequoit’s own drum legend, Steve Gadd, was there to hold down the fort was an added bonus.
Had James and his giant all star band been the only act on the bill, I’m sure that a sizeable portion of the crowd would have been just fine, but Jackson Browne’s contribution to the evening can’t be overstated.
The 73-year-old legend of Laurel Canyon took the audience on a 70-minute journey through his career in which “Late For the Sky,” “Doctor My Eyes,” and a duet with Taylor on “The Pretender” stood out as the highlights. Even the tracks he pulled from his 2021 release, “Downhill From Everywhere,” had bite in the arena setting, so it’s clear that he’s still capable of delivering a stunner on any given night. When he returned at the end of Taylor’s set for an encore of “Take It Easy,” the crowd ate it up and stood until the last note was played.
If they ever decide to team up again down the line, be sure to see them while you still can.