On October 30th, after over a year-long delay, James Taylor took to the stage at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. After a quick set change, following an incredible set by Jackson Browne, the lights dimmed and a triangle-shaped cloth was dropped from the ceiling to the stage. At the same time, videos of fans singing their favorite James Taylor covers played. A faux tree in the corner, with lit green leaves dangling, created that country feeling. Next, old album covers and photos of Taylor played on the sheet as band members took to the stage.
The cloth dropped and Taylor appeared — signature cap, coat and guitar in hand — playing “Country Road”.
This began Taylor’s evening of music, storytelling and — dare I say — stand-up comedy. He shared with the audience how great it was to play for people again, that it’s just not the same without them. “Sometimes, it was doubtful we’d ever get back here to you,” said Taylor.
While beginning to play “Copper Line,” Taylor shared how the song is a musical version of a landscape painting of the North Carolina countryside where he grew up. The beautifully lit leaves on the stage turned to orange and yellow fall colors. In contrast, a fantastic fall forest background played on the screen behind. Taylor also shared the story of when he learned of the death of his dear friend John Belushi and how the song “That’s Why I’m Here” marked his own journey to sobriety. He dedicated the song to those in recovery, joking that, “We do have plenty of songs, if you’re f*cked up.” He apologized to the laughing crowd if any children were in the audience, but also joking how his fiddle player always reminds him he can’t say “f*ck” in front of the kids.
Then, the leaves onstage turn to stars, enhancing the storytelling setting and bringing out his group of talented backup singers, including his son Henry; he launched into “Mexico”. This fan-favorite delightfully highlighted the horns and percussion section of Taylor’s all-star band. He introduced sax player and former Blues Brother, “Blue Lou” Marini, and the crowd went wild.
Taylor’s humor and storytelling were unceasing throughout the entire 17 song set.
He shared that the song “Line ‘Em Up”, which came from the final moments of the Nixon administration… not that it’s a political song; it’s just about how things work. The song was inspired by a staging problem, where Nixon was saying goodbye to staff. It was a long walk to the helicopter as Nixon said farewell to his employees. Taylor proved he is still a guitar god, even at one point laying down his guitar onstage, paying tribute to it.
Taylor spoke about the guitar-centric album of American Standards that he dropped in February of 2020, just before COVID. He joked that dropping that album was much like “dropping a record into a well”. He played the song “As Easy As Rolling Off A Log” from the album; Taylor shared that it was the first cover song that he had learned from a Warner Brothers/Merrie Melodies cartoon, Katnip Kollege. While the band played the endearing music, an image of a vintage TV played the comic as the characters sang along to the song. The fan-favorite “Sweet Baby James” was met with the story of his namesake nephew and how he wrote the lyrics on the drive to meet him in 1968. A children’s pop-up book with lyrics played onscreen behind.
The songs “Fire and Rain” and “Suzanne” brought the singer a standing ovation, while “Carolina In My Mind,” “Shower The People,” and “How Sweet It Is” had everyone singing along to close out Taylor’s set. The four-song encore began with Jackson Browne joining Taylor on a duet of The Eagles’ hit, “Take It Easy,” which was co-written by Browne. Browne stayed on as Taylor’s wife Kim joined the stage, adding backing vocals on Taylor’s cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”. The incredible night closed out as Taylor and his 20-year-old son Henry sang a beautiful duet of “You Can Close Your Eyes”.
Photography by Robert Mora