One would think that a Sunday night show in Halifax would be a deterrent for some folks. But when you put two legendary singer-songwriters on the same bill, you’ll quickly find a slew of folks who are quick to embrace the recently pitched Get Back Out There slogan. You could quickly tell that there wasn’t a lot of crossover with the recent Judas Priest crowd, but this was a crowd that would definitely lean towards hoisting a BIC lighter overhead rather than a cellphone flashlight. All the credit to those in attendance, as the room was packed even before the “opening act” took to the stage.
That “opening act” was none other than Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne, a renowned songwriter and activist, making his long-overdue return to our region (he was last here in 2011). Unlike his last trip to Halifax, Browne brought along a talented band to support him, including bassist Bob Glaub (who has played alongside Rod Stewart, John Lennon, Don Henley, and Linda Ronstadt), Val McCallum (guitar), Jason Crosby (piano, violin), Mauricio “Fritz” Lewak (drums) and the fantastic backing singers Chavonne Stewart and Aletha Mills.
From the initial notes of “Somebody’s Baby”, Jackson had the crowd in the palm of his hand, as he treated the audience to a handful of more recent material such as “The Long Way Around”, “Downhill from Everywhere” and “The Dreamer”. The back half of the set was loaded with hits such as “Doctor my Eyes”, “Late For the Sky”, “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty”. It was on those last two songs that Browne was joined by James Taylor, and the mutual admiration was evident as they beamed at each other. It was a fantastic way to kick the evening off.
After a short intermission, it was time for the lights to dim again and when things got back underway we were treated to an interesting light projection and voiceover that highlighted James Taylor’s storied career. Once the curtain dropped, Taylor made his way on stage, with the adoring fanfare befitting of the artist who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by none other than the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. With an affable and somewhat shy grin, Taylor launched into “Country Road”, and we were off and running.
In looking around the room, the ease of Taylor’s delivery and songwriting had the room spellbound. There were only a handful of moments throughout the night that you saw more than a handful of phones lit up capturing the moment. This was a room filled largely with folks who long predate smartphones and are more than accustomed to taking in a moment and relying on those memories which live on in their own head. There is no need to document the experience as it is happening.
From his initial appearance at the tail end of Jackson Browne’s set, you could see the joy James Taylor was experiencing being back on stage where he belongs. This was a show that was postponed on more than one occasion due to the ongoing pandemic, but now that we have been able to reconvene, those in attendance were as happy to see him, as he was to perform these classic cuts. For many of the “younger” folks in the crowd, it’s not hard to imagine that Fire and Rain was the entryway into the James Taylor catalogue, as it has been a staple of more than a handful of K-tel records. It is a beloved and well-known tune that has aged like a fine wine, and sounded as good as ever.
Much like Jackson Browne, James Taylor also assembled a talented supporting cast to join him on this North American tour. His band includes some astounding vocalists in Arnold McCuller (a longtime Browne collaborator), Dorian Holley (who has worked with Aretha and Whitney), Kate Markowitz, and Andrea Zonn, but in addition to those great singers, there are some heavy hitters in the band such as Lou Marini on horns, Michael Landau on guitar, Walt Fowler on keyboards and horns, and the incomparable Steve Gadd on drums (Gadd has played alongside Clapton, BB King, Paul Simon and others).
At one point in the set, James Taylor introduced an electric guitar into the proceedings and quipped that it was a vast improvement over steam and gas-powered guitars, as well as those horse-drawn guitars. These somewhat cheesy and wholly entertaining dad jokes paved the way for Taylor to launch into “Steamroller” on which he was having a blast noodling on his Fender Stratocaster for the appropriately greasy blues tune, complete with obligatory face pulls as the music took him over. During that song, there was a searing trumpet solo which carried into an ivory tickling showcase, which then allowed Mike Landau to melt more than a few faces with a scintillating solo.
As the opening set wound down, the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” got folks on their feet, and a few even needed a little prodding by James to join in the festivities, which transformed the Scotiabank Centre into a bright cheerful party that served as the closing of the main set. Once the song faded away and Taylor took his bow, people grabbed their coats and headed for the hills; even before the encore could be considered the exodus was underway. James returned to the stage flanked by his backing vocalists and wowed the crowd with the dazzling “Shed a Little Light”. It was a joyful way to kick off the encore, in which Taylor encouraged the crowd to stand up and clap along. It even froze those on the concourse in their tracks as they watched from above the lower bowl.
James Taylor’s encore ended similarly to Jackson Browne’s set, as Jackson returned to the stage to perform the Eagles classic “Take It Easy” with his pal James. Taylor and his band took their final bow, then he headed for the stool on stage and performed the Carole King number “You’ve Got a Friend” with Browne providing backing vocals. The final song of the night was “Your Can Close Your Eyes”, but I’m sure if James Taylor played on, that room would still be packed. It was a much more lively affair for this Halifax stop, and the packed house left with smiles clearly plastered across their mugs. After two previous cancellations, I guess it’s true what they say, the third time is the charm.