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Concert Reviews:
James Taylor showers the people with hits at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2014

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- "Shower The People" took on a different meaning for James Taylor's concert Sunday night at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.

The evening's heavy storms turned the DTE -- or, as Taylor frequently intoned, Pine Knob -- lawn and concourse into a sea of umbrellas and rain ponchos. But it did not stop the veteran troubadour's hearty corps of fans from turning out in healthy numbers for his first performance in nine years at the venue where for many years he was a summer regular, usually for multi-night stands..

And on Sunday Taylor and his versatile 10-piece band delivered just what he did before -- a tightly produced and carefully crafted roll through one of pop's most enduring song catalogs, with richly nuanced arrangements breathing life into all 23 songs, from the oldest chestnuts ("Something in the Way She Moves, "Carolina in My Mind") to the brand new "Today, Today, Today," an easygoing, country-tinged tune that Taylor related to his days in England, auditioning (successfully) for the Beatles' Apple Records label.

"Sorry to go on so much," Taylor said towards the end of the tale. "Stop me if I go on too long."

Taylor's fans were hardly about to do that, however, as he spun several nice song stories that only enriched the experience of hearing them. He talked about "Millworker's" history as part of the failed Stephen Schwartz Broadway adaption of Studs Terkel's "Working," while "Carolina in My Mind" led to more remembrances of being in the Beatles' orbit and "a fly on the wall" during the recording of "The Beatles" (aka "The White Album"). "I just wish I could remember more of it," Taylor quipped. "I'm sure I had a great time."

And though he told the audience "don't pay attention to the lyrics to his one. Just love it for its groove" before "One More Go Round," the allegedly inconsequential words were actually displayed on the video screen as Taylor and company played the song.

The most memorable parts of the show, of course, were the songs themselves. The 66-year-old Taylor -- who spent part of the intermission signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans in the pavilion -- dug deep for some welcome "album tracks," included the gospel-flavored "Lo and Behold" and "Stretch of the Highway," which opened the second set. He also sampled his stash of stylized covers -- Buddy Holly's "Everyday," Sparks of Rhythm's "Handy Man," the Drifters' "Up On the Roof" and, of course, Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" -- and offered up a wealth of his own timeless hits, including "Country Road," "Sweet Baby James," "Fire and Rain," "Mexico" (which Taylor sang with Jimmy Buffett the night before at Detroit's Comerica Park) and "Your Smiling Face."

Only "Steamroller Blues" came off flat; despite some hot solos by guitarist Michael Landau and keyboardist Larry Goldings -- and an exuberant ovation from the crowd -- the night's token moment of grit came off as schticky and meandering. Taylor even acknowledged it as "shameless excess" after the group finished.

It did anything but spoil the show, however, and Taylor further sealed the night's connection during the encore, sporting a Detroit vs. Everybody T-shirt as the ensemble romped through Marvin Gaye's Motown hit "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)." The feeling, of course, was mutual from the DTE crowd, resulting in a successful summer "homecoming" at a place Taylor had been away from for far too long.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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