James Taylor and Carole King: 24 May 2010 – Chicago

Carole King

With a combined age of 130 years, James Taylor and Carole King are clear testament to the phrase “you are only as old as you feel.” Whether it’s the obvious legacy before them, or the good company next to them, the two singers sounded as fresh and renewed as today’s young artists. Don’t take my word for it; take the 20,000 person audience who gave the duo eleven standing ovations, not including the ovations at the beginning and end of the regular set, the first encore, and the second encore. It was a very aerobic evening, to say the least.

The show was just over two and a half hours and consisted of two dozen songs. The song selections would alternate, one from King, then one from Taylor, then a delightful duet of a respected song. They performed on a round, rotating stage and were accompanied by some of the original players on Taylor’s 1970’s recordings (guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russell Kunkel), whom all added fiery solos and soulful riffs to songs like “Steamroller” and “Jazzman”. The rapport was easy; the legends all too comfortable with one another. During a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain”, the two sat side-by-side on stools, after which, King put her head on Taylor’s shoulder and was rewarded with a kiss on the head and a pat on the knee. When the same situation occurred at the end of the second encore after a heartfelt croon of Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes”, there were not only gasps from the audience, but many a tearful eye walking out of the arena.

The combination of styles was a perfect balance. While Taylor’s voice and calm melodies seemed to melt the audience right into their seats, King’s up-tempo numbers and big vocals were ideal for spicing things up. She was the pepper to his salt and the set list was laid out accordingly. When King sang the simple “Way Over Yonder”, the lively “Smackwater Jack” then followed it up. After both numbers, the audience rewarded King with a standing “O” and Taylor simply looked at her and gave her a well-deserved thumbs-up.

It was also great to see the musicians take a step away from their instruments before each song and really hone in on the aspect of being songwriters. They would frequently prep the audience with the circumstances to which they had originally penned the songs, who they wrote them with, and what their inspirations had been. King detailed that shortly after meeting Taylor “In what must have been 1903,” he was her inspiration for writing solo. When the two met again years later, they realized they had “Separately written the exact same song”. This led to King’s “Song of Long Ago” and Taylor’s “Long Ago and Far Away”.

They were good to the crowd, always extremely gracious and genuinely surprised at the unrelenting outpour of love. They joked that when they were writing the set list, it had originally been about five hours long (the cheers were outrageous) but when it was shaved down, they made sure to pick the favorites. The majority of Taylor’s songs can be found on his Greatest Hits release, while the jewels from King’s numbers were off her 1971 hit Tapestry. When Taylor played songs like “Country Road”, “Mexico” and “Carolina in My Mind” they were effortless and perfected. His fingers melded with the guitar, naturally and gracefully playing each chord. He even went so far as to call his songs “Hymns for agnostics”, exemplifying his motto with “Shower the People”.

King’s best numbers of the night were easily “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Feel the Earth Move”. On both songs, she stepped away from her piano, devoting her focus on vocals and stage presence. Her voice is still at its best, so uniquely adenoidal and at the same, ethereal. During “I Feel the Earth Move”, King worked the stage, bumping against all the background singers, wildly dancing, her blonde hair flying everywhere. She was accompanied by a jaw-dropping light show, the blue and yellow strobe lights simulating a whirlwind thunderstorm and King was embracing and controlling it.

The show was so emotional, seeming to resonate even more so with the performers than the audience. Whether it was the ogling looks during “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” or the hugs and sways for their encore “How Sweet it is”, Taylor and King are such well-versed performers that their harmonies were pitch perfect, and their performance well-executed. It was so easy, as an audience member, to take a step back, close your eyes and be transported to a different time. It was a night of great respect, mutually, between the people in the seats and those on stage, a respect that can only be earned when you have more than 130 years of experience.