The audience was old, white, and balding. Sometimes they seemed like the people you see on those dreadful T.J. Lubinsky specials on PBS from Pittsburgh. But in the end, even though Carole King and James Taylor brought the geezers to Madison Square Garden, their Troubador reunion was undeniably lovely.
What set it apart from a nostalgia show? The songs and the musicianship. The show reprises the original musicians from their early recordings–Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, and Leland Sklar. Missing is bassist Charles Larkey, King’s second ex husband. And where the heck is Merry Clayton, the great soul singer who gave King’s albums their extra edge?
Also compelling: the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Katie Couric, Geraldo Rivera and songwriter Marc Shaiman were all sitting in $1,000 premium seats that ringed the circular revolving stage in the middle of the Garden. The set was a knockout, less Westbury Music Fair than boxing match. Indeed, the Garden used its boxing/wrestling configuration. Who won the match? It was a draw.
The show mostly followed the November 2007 shows I saw at the Troubador in West Hollywood. Those six shows were to commemorate the tiny club’s anniversary and also the 1971 shows put on by Taylor and King. It was a heady time in L.A. pop as they recorded James’s “Mud Slide Slim” album and Carole’s “Tapestry.” They played and sang on each other’s records. Taylor had a breakout with King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” Musicians went back and forth between the projects.
After the 2007 shows there was silence. King was said to be very difficult (not news) about allowing a DVD to be released, let alone a CD. Taylor’s longtime manager/producer, the great Peter Asher, was patient though. The result is a hit CD/DVD package this spring on Concord. And this long hoped for tour.
King is 68 and buoyant on stage. Still wedded to her piano, she also jumps around on stiletto heels. She’s all Brooklyn, New York, with a voice that launches nasal but lands as bluesy. It never fails. Taylor is more stolid, hesitant, and folksy. His voice reminds you of a clear, cool river. You’d never think they had anything in common. And yet, they (together with Carly Simon) are connected for life. And at $350 a pop for regular tickets, it must seem like a good idea.
The songs are so solid there’s nothing you can do to knock them down. All of “Tapestry,” part of the followup album, “Music,” and scattered hits like “Up on the Roof” and “Sweet Seasons” make up King’s set. All she’s really missing is “The LocoMotion.” She trots ou rEverly Brothers hit, “Crying in the Rain.” (I actually like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe‘s version better.) Taylor has all of “Sweet Baby James,” and many more like “Mexico” and “Copperline.”
My favorite moment? The combination of “Song of Long Ago” and “Long Ago and Far Away,” the songs that link Taylor and King historically from those sessions. This was not part of the 2007 shows. They also did duets on “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Up on the Roof,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” They should add “High Out of Time,” a later King song that Taylor recorded on. But as James said in the show last night, the original set they thought up would have lasted six hours. You gotta stop somewhere.
Meanwhile, boy, Katie Couric and Sarah Jessica really had a long, intense conversation during the intermission. Many world problems may be solved today as a result. SJP and MB also took pictures of the performers while they were on stage.
PS If you want to hear even better versions of “You’ve Got A Friend,” look for two duets on ITunes or Amazon: one by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, and another by Al Green and Billy Preston.