Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour
That headline was probably used for an article 30 or 40 years ago, and improbably it can be used for a series of benefit shows this week. Partly as a celebration of the storied venue’s 50th anniversary and mostly as a benefit for charities (including Natural Resources Defense Council, MusiCares, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank) the pair delighted the packed crowds for six shows across three nights.
Appearing as a duo for many songs, Taylor and King reprised songs from their 1969 debut at The Troubadour. They traded off vocals on several key songs, and added unique harmony to most of the others.
At the top of the set, King’s “So Far Away” and Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” set the stage for a warm and intimate evening. Eventually joined by Taylor’s classic band, a fuller sound emerged with tunes like “Smackwater Jack” and “Machine Gun Kelly.” The Section (guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar) were in fine form, with Kortchmar reeling licks both fresh and familiar.
King and Taylor made inevitable references to the distance of time since their first appearances on The Troubadour stage. Taylor’s early comment “we reportedly played here often” hinted at his long-kicked drug issues. Later, when a woman squealed in delight after Taylor’s “Country Road,” King quipped “just be concerned when they start throwing bras.” She quickly followed up with the night’s zinger “I hear women are wearing them again now.”
“Fire and Rain” highlighted Kunkel’s innovative brushwork. (A few of us recalled how The Simpsons used the song’s chorus when Homer was mucking things up as an astronaut “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”).
Taylor provided the well-known backstory to his foray into the music business. In 1968 he played “Something in the Way She Moves” to Peter Asher, who played it for McCartney and Harrison. Soon Taylor was signed to The Beatles’ famous Apple Records. King picked up the thread, goosing Taylor to admit that “Harrison liked the song so much he wrote it again.” Taylor certainly has overcome any trepidation at the success Harrison had with the lyrical theme; before launching into his song he called it the biggest musical break possible.
King addressed a thought that was invariably coursing through the minds of the industry-heavy crowd. Sweeping her hand across the stage, she said, “This is where it starts, with the singer and the songs. We now have Pro Tools and computers and the rest, but this is how it is really done.” She then performed a tremendous version of a song she wrote with Gerry Goffin (which captures a timeless sentiment faced at least once by at least half the population), “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
The audience was peppered with fellow travelers: Jane and Peter Fonda, Jackson Browne, Rick Rubin. Near me, taking a break from his Laker’s courtside seat with Jack, was Lou Adler. It was on his label that King released her epochal Tapestry album, for many years the biggest selling album of all time. I was curious what Adler was thinking as he stood watching King, from all those years go. After the show, he admitted “She’s still got it.”
King had the crowd in her hands with “It’s Too Late” and “A Natural Woman.” Her voice may not reach the high notes we recall from the original recordings, but her peerless emotion shined through. Taylor’s delicate voice remains emotive, and he was far more proficient on acoustic guitar than on the rare occasion he strapped on the Fender electric guitar. During the fuller band songs, the lanky and less hirsute Taylor gamely strummed along.
As the concert swung to a close, Taylor told how he came to write “Sweet Baby James” driving to North Carolina to see his newborn nephew. Then came the most poignant moment of the evening. He pointed up to the balcony to the exact position he was standing when he first watched King perform “You’ve Got A Friend.” He worked out an arrangement for guitar that night and has since played it every time he steps on stage. This time, like few times before, he traded verses with the author. There were very few dry eyes in the house during the achingly beautiful rendition.
The encore was another verse-trading gem they each made famous, the Goffin-King “Up on The Roof.”
Both Taylor and King have reached a rarified position of true artistic and commercial achievement. They defined the role of singer-songwriter, and their stars have not diminished across the decades.