James Taylor opened his concert Saturday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with “Something in the Way She Moves,” telling us he starts his shows with that song because it is the song he sang to audition in front of George Harrison and Paul McCartney. Taylor, as a result, was the first act signed to Apple Records. “Everything else is fallout,” he said.
Through the night his stories returned to that time period in 1968. Before singing “Carolina in My Mind,” he told us how he had developed “almost a clinical case of homesickness” in England while watching the Beatles record “The White Album.” “This song was the result.”
In another story later in the evening he told us that, while still abroad, he learned that his new nephew was named after him. He sang “Sweet Baby James,” a beautiful song he called a “cowboy lullaby,” which he wrote in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, after meeting the baby.
Taylor’s voice was as wonderful as ever. Even at age 20 he sounded like an adult singing for adults. It seems his age has caught up to his music. His voice, and his music, has aged like wine. There were no amazing moments, no jaw-dropping solos, the songs didn’t arc to a crescendo and then fall — instead it was all about pleasant, serene songs, delivered patiently and with clarity.
He sang his cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” and “Handy Man.”
He talked about a common thread in his music: “spirituality and nature ... hippie creed.” He called “Copperline” a “landscape, if it was a painting.”
Backed by nine people on stage — four of them singers — the 66-year-old stayed out in front most of the show with his singing and stories, the band serving only as support.
The highest energy of the night was during “Country Road,” when he opened his throat up at the end of the song to volley notes back and forth with legendary drummer Steve Gadd. The crackerjack band, restrained most of the night, stepped up for this tune, Taylor digging in for the ending.
He played a few less familiar tunes, like “Today Today Today,” which he said “harkens back to that time” in England where it all started for him.
He sang “Millworker,” a song he wrote about a female mill worker in Lowell, Massachusetts, for the Broadway play based on Studs Terkel’s book “Working.” The play lasted only five days, he said. The song sounded like all his songs mashed together.
He said “One More Go Round” had “a nice pocket but was lyrically weak.” The video screen proceeded to show the lyrics as Taylor sang them — cute but not needed.
The band attacked the bluesy “Steamroller.” Taylor’s vocals do not project with great muscle, but he managed to pull off an aggressive feel through technique and intonation.
He sang a few more big ones to bring the night to a close: “Only One,” “Fire and Rain,” “Up on the Roof,” “Mexico” and “How Sweet it Is” and “Your Smiling Face.”
Taylor’s music is soft, intimate and perfect for relaxing in the backyard. Saturday night he turned SPAC into a big, intimate backyard for some 14,000 satisfied fans.