The passage of time has been kind to the original JT.
That’s James Taylor, FYI millennials, not Justin Timberlake.
Strumming an acoustic guitar and singing 24 songs alongside his self-proclaimed “best band in the known universe” on Tuesday night at the Save Mart Center, the richness of the singer-songwriter’s voice didn’t sound much different than it did in 1970, when one of his best-known hits, “Fire and Rain,” skyrocketed him to stardom.
The majority of the people who filled the arena to the top of the stairs were alive in 1970, and Taylor took notice. He teased fans before playing “Walking Man” early on, saying since the song is about autumn, he really should sing it in the fall, but that would be too late.
“We’ll be gone in the fall,” he said, met with booming laughter, “so we’re going to sing this sucker for you right now.”
But jokes aside, this is certainly not the end for Taylor. And if this is the fall of his life, it’s a lovely time when all the leaves are turning gold. The classics he sang, and a few new songs that he sprinkled in from a well-received album he released last year, “Before This World,” all sparkled with something that’s hard to put a finger on. It was a layer of emotional depth and contentment that I can only describe as peace.
James Taylor ended “Secret O’ Life” with a line that sums it all up well: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
Full disclosure: I really like James Taylor. I was at the concert not only as a reporter, but to celebrate my dad’s birthday on July 12. My family bought tickets for the show long before I was asked to review it. Growing up, James Taylor songs filled the house. More than any other artist, James Taylor songs make me think of my dad, family, home – comfort.
And that’s the appeal of James Taylor – he’s good at making people feel comfortable. With that smooth, soothing voice, a knack for storytelling and engaging people, and lots of heart, the Fresno crowd was very happy with their guest. Taylor was equally appreciative and amazed at the end of the night, saying he had “no idea” Fresno was full of so many “great” and “fantastic” fans.
The five-time Grammy Award winner, a member of both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame, modeled what it means to be the epitome of super casual superstar as he performed in a pair of jeans, button-up long-sleeve shirt, newsboy cap, and a blazer that he took off near the beginning of the show. The modesty extended to the way he treated fans and band members. Near the end of the 20-minute intermission, he signed autographs near the stage and posed for selfies, and during the concert, he spent lots of time singing his band’s praises and giving his comrades the spotlight. Backup singer Arnold McCuller, who belted out a soulful and powerhouse ending for “Shower the People,” and fiddle player Andrea Zonn responded with especially inspiring performances.
Taylor did a little joyful jump into the air with his guitar at the end of some of his most fun and upbeat performances – “Steamroller” and “Mexico” handily winning – but that was about as wild as it got. For the majority of the night, it was a mellow acoustic group playing in front of a backdrop of changing shades of deep blue, purple and crimson with twinkling lights surrounding the stage.
The final encore, a new song, “You and I Again,” brought me back to a reflection on time: “You and I again/These days go by/And I wish that I could slow the whole thing down/Have it all back again, just one more time.”
And the end of the song, a token of hope: “And so although I know we are only small/In the time we have here/This time we have it all/You and I again/This time, this time.”
I wanted to cry, and my mother did.
Outside, I asked my dad how he thought James Taylor did.
“I think James Taylor was as good as he ever was,” he said, “and his last song tells you a little something about where’s he’s at.”
That’s a place where love and family and relationships are first, my dad said.
And so there you have it.
It was a great concert, and a great place to reflect on life.
Thanks for coming to Fresno, James, and Happy Birthday, Dad.