Review: James Taylor, Carole King deliver a once-in-a-lifetime performance in Tampa

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For most people, there are certain albums that hold a special place in their record collection. Everyone has their own list, with each entry representative of a particular memory, place or event. While some of my personal favorites have rotated over the years, a few have remained etched in stone.

Two of these are Tapestry, the minimalistic 1971 release from songwriter Carole King; and James Taylor’s 1976 Greatest Hits collection. Although I’ve seen James Taylor in concert once before, I’ve never had the opportunity to experience Carole King in person. Sunday night’s Troubadour Reunion concert at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa was an once-in-a-lifetime chance to see both of these extraordinary songwriters together.

In an effort to recreate the look and feel of a vintage nightclub performance, Taylor and King commissioned a unique and technically groundbreaking stage design for this tour. The stage is circular and rotates in alternating directions to give everyone in the house a great seat for at least part of the performance.

Surrounding the stage is a VIP seating area featuring café-type tables for two and enclosed by a lighted barrier. The sound system is suspended above the stage, along with an elaborate array of video screens and special effects. The combination is both high-tech and intimate at the same time.

King and Taylor were joined onstage by longtime band mates guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar. Rounding out this talented group of musicians was Rudy Guess, Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz. Although the stage was occupied by eight musicians and two cameramen throughout the night, the lack of sound equipment made it feel open and roomy.

As for the music, Taylor said that when he and King got together to decide on which songs to include on this tour, the set list was nearly seven hours long. After some tough negotiation, they managed to decide on a three-hour show that includes hits such as It’s Too Late, Fire and Rain, Jazzman, You Need a Friend and How Sweet It Is.

While songs like Sweet Baby James and I Feel the Earth Move were obvious crowd favorites, I was quite taken by some of the lesser known songs chosen for this show. One of my personal favorites was King’s Crying in the Rain, which was a hit for the Everly Brothers in 1962. Another highlight of the evening was Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, a King tune made famous by the Shirelles. For this song, Taylor and King performed a duet, with King on piano.

In my opinion, the Troubadour Reunion tour lived up to the hype and offered a memorable evening of music. Although in their 60s, both Carole King and James Taylor sounded better than ever and commanded the stage with the energy of much younger musicians. It’s one of those rare tours that will probably never happen again, and should not be missed.

Review: Jeff O'Kelley, tbt*. Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr., tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:19pm]

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