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Concert Reviews:
James Taylor Show Turns Into Stanley Cup Party

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2008

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" was a sweeter and more appropriate show-closer than James Taylor probably anticipated on Wednesday night (June 4) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival.

With news of the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup win rippling through the crowd, the encore of Taylor's already sublime show turned into a victory party. As Taylor and his aptly titled Band of Legends rolled from Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" into Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood," backup singer Arnold McCuller strode onstage with a Red Wings cap that he placed on Taylor's head. McCuller held a Wings' jersey in front of the group as it took its bows, and the subsequent performance of the aforementioned Marvin Gaye Motown hit provided the perfect finish for the ebullient, sold-out crowd of 7,000.

Fortunately the Cup win came late enough that it didn't obscure a championship quality show by Taylor -- which by all accounts, including his own, was the 60-year-old artist's first ever at Meadow Brook after decades of regular stops at Pine Knob and the DTE Energy Music Theatre. Though many in the crowd were regularly checking cell phone updates on the score and random Red Wings chants popped up throughout the night, Taylor and company still managed to captivate with a 25-song, two-and-a-half hour show marked by exceptional musicality and an ambitious repertoire.

The Band of Legends is just that, an 11-piece ensemble of players who have worked with Taylor throughout his career and each have resumes that, piled atop each other, probably stack up taller than the lanky singer-songwriter. With a two-piece horn section and four backing vocalists, including Michigan-born David Lasley, the group gave Taylor the ability to render each song in the best manner possible, whether it was the sumptuous harmonies on "Shower the People" and "You've Got a Friend" or a gritty romp through the bluesy "Steamroller" that spotlighted guitarist Michael Landau and keyboardist Larry Goldings. Drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Luis Conte, meanwhile, were alpha players amidst the all-star ensemble, while singer Andrea Zonn dressed up a few of the songs with fiddle.

Taylor also charged the Band of Legends with delivering a song selection many in the crowd found curious but, if they allowed themselves, accepted as an adventurous gem. Taylor and the group recently recorded an album of covers that's due out this fall, and he drew liberally from those sessions. Kicking off with the 1965 Temptations' single "It's Growing" and the Silhouettes' 1958 chart-topper "Get a Job," Taylor took on a breadth of material that was often surprising -- Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," George Jones' "Why Baby Why," a languid version of John Anderson's "Seminole Wind," "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' " from Oklahoma, the Dixie Chicks' "Some Days You Gotta Dance" -- and sometimes faithful to its sources, like a romp through "Hound Dog" drawn from Big Mama Thornton rather than Elvis Presley.

There were still plenty of Taylor's favorites, mind you -- "Country Road," "Mexico," "Sweet Baby James, "Walkin' Man" and "Carolina in My Mind" among them -- though "Fire and Rain" was a notable exclusion. But given the quality of the rest of the show and the celebratory note on which it ended, Taylor's performance was its own kind of victory.

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