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[Review] James Taylor @ Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne 16/04/2024

It’s a cold and rainy winter night. You’re lounging on the living room floor with a glass of wine in front of the heater, turntable crackling in the background, and the sweet, mellow smoothness of James Taylor is absorbing your ear drums as well as your soul. Life is content. This is the exact vibe that washes over me whenever I hear his voice…

Tuesday night in the city and it was baby boomer central at Margaret Court Arena, as a few thousand punters ventured in to see legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor. Taylor is currently touring the country on what has been dubbed as his last Australian tour. 

As my friend and I were standing in line waiting to stuff our faces with Mr Miyagi’s pork baos, I could’ve sworn I saw James Taylor walking through the crowd. In fact, there were about 30 James Taylor’s strolling by me on their way to the bar. At first I thought my hunger was making me hallucinate, I soon realised that in actual fact there were just a lot of men sporting their flat caps, paying homage to the man of the hour who is known to have one as permanent fixture to his head. For those spring chickens less acquainted with the style, think Peaky Blinders hat. 

Given there were no support acts, it didn’t take long to dive straight into proceedings once we’d taken our seats amongst the hoards. The house lights were killed off, and Mr James Taylor walked out on stage (yes, wearing his iconic hat), under a single spotlight and was met with a huge applause. His hat was removed, and he took a bow before settling into his position for the night. He let us know that he was so glad to FINALLY be back in Australia and that it’s such a long trip to get here. The show was opened with Something in the Way She Moves, in which Taylor revealed that this was the first song that he played for Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968. The Beatles had just started Apple Records and after hearing that song, Taylor was the first artist to be signed to their label. There’s nothing I love more than listening to an artist give a backstory on their music and creating this whole bigger picture than what you initially realise. 

Rainy Day Man followed before we were led into That’s Why I’m Here, which was written after the death of his good friend and partner in crime John Belushi, which was then a catalyst towards Taylor’s own recovery. A song about our own beloved Australia, Yellow and Rose played out, until we were a “long way from anywhere” with Anywhere Like Heaven. Throughout the first half of the show I was having a good laugh at the female cohort of the crowd, yelling out that they loved him in which he awkwardly and cheekily reciprocated, however I did think it was going to get all Tom Jones there at one point and I was going to see underwear being thrown at the stage. Before getting into Never Die Young, James told us “That’s actually great life advice and if you’re young enough then don’t die. It’s too late for me but save yourselves!” His dry sense of humour was present throughout the entire show and had everyone laughing along the whole night. 

After Country Road, in which I couldn’t take my eyes off drummer Dean Parks with his killer drum part, there seemed to be an issue with James’ inner ear monitors and he hilariously told us he had the footy game running through them, and it kept cutting out which was annoying him. Sweet Baby James was a huge hit with crowd, until the wacky tune Sun on the Moon rounded out his first set. When Taylor held up a comical-sized board of his set list that looked like a wobble board, he mentioned an intermission and I thought this was his humour coming into play again. 

“Now I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” … but never in all my years of going to concerts have I been to one with an intermission!

 The house lights went up and for 20 minutes the crowd had a stretch and restocked their snacks and beverages before settling back in for the second half of the show. We were then taken on a bit of a journey around the world, with the beautiful Carolina in My Mind opening up the second set. We then jetted off to Mexico, and with its slight Caribbean undertones which I found interesting, it had the crowd moving along. The crowd went wild as he traded in his acoustic guitar for an electric for the first time that night, and there was a cheeky joke made about how far guitars had come since the old gas and steam guitars, but that horse drawn guitars were still being used in Pennsylvania. This led into the blues tune Steamroller in which I felt my body involuntarily moving to the beat. It also further solidified the fact that I need to learn how to play the harmonica (you’re welcome, neighbours) after a ripping harmonica solo from Taylor. 

The iconic intro to his heartbreaking classic Fire and Rain had the crowd going mad and had them also singing along at a respectable volume throughout the entire song. Up on the Roof – written by the legendary Carole King – got the crowd even more excited, as did Shower the People where James’ wife joined the band onstage on backing vocals. We were then told “I’m gonna sing that other Carole King song for ya” which raised a huge response from the crowd as he led into the absolute classic You’ve Got a Friend. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) seemed to draw the night to a close and attracted a huge reaction with a standing ovation from the crowd. 

After James and the band left the stage, I was contemplating whether we would get an encore given the intermission we had. But I needn’t contemplate for long because James was back in no time, much to the pure delight of his fans and went on to Shed A Little Light on us, which had everyone up and dancing. Smiling Face had that exact affect on the crowd, and they reciprocated with another standing ovation at its conclusion. They still weren’t quite done so to finish off the night completely, it was the mellow You Can Close Your Eyes and the beautifully blended harmonies resonated throughout the arena which was the perfect end to such a relaxed evening. 

James Taylor is one of the original singer-songwriter masters of our time, and his melodious music and soulful lyrics have the power to impact and survive throughout the generations. This was a night that was throughly enjoyed by all, and I know that everyone present are secretly hoping that he’ll change his mind about this being his last Australian tour. Until (hopefully) next time, James!

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