A priori, it was Bonnie Raitt who was to be Taylor’s guest during this evening initially scheduled for April 29, 2020. But the postponement of the tour due to the pandemic in 2021, then a second time in 2022, forced the American to forfeit. So Taylor turned to Browne, which I believe turned out to be a great idea.
Both born in 1948 (Taylor turned 74 in March, Browne will be in October), arrived on the music scene at the end of the 1960s and revealed by their individual successes during the 1970s, the songwriters and performers have experienced a parallel journey where the quality of their pen and their compositions were at the rendezvous.
Lessons from the past
In the summer of 2009, during his very first visit to Montreal at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Jackson Browne gave a soft concert, with little soul and, above all, almost totally devoid of great hits: three or four in addition to two o’clock. He had not deviated from the tour of his album of the moment, forgetting that he had never performed in Quebec in front of an audience who had come in large numbers who hoped for much more. The critics – I was one of them – had shrunk it unceremoniously.
Twenty-one months later, in the spring of 2011, in the same almost empty room – floor not full, mezzanine, basket and balcony empty – Browne had been of boundless inspiration and generosity, offering more than one fifteen hits, including eight of the ten songs on the album Running On Empty. Total redemption and rave reviews.
What about last night?
Although he was not the headliner, Browne, who now assumes his salt-and-pepper hair and sports a beard, delivered a 70-minute performance where he showed off his talent with a group of thunder .
Spruce opening with Somebody’s Babyyou film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and sequence with The Barricades of Heaven, set with well-felt solos from Browne’s musicians on electric guitar and slide guitar. Nice appetizer.
After waving to the crowd, Browne noted he’s been a fan of James Taylor ever since his pal Glenn Frey – before The Eagles – told him about a promising youngster he absolutely had to listen to. Friendships can sometimes be born out of mutual admiration…
Browne delivered a splendid piano Fountain of Sorrow that the spectators recognized from the first notes, before offering us a trio of militant songs. To begin with, a recent biting composition, Downhill From Everywhere, which lists dozens of things in decline: hospitals, farms, news, school, etc. Performed with his choristers, Browne’s song was not a bitter old man’s lament, but reflected contemporary America.
After reproaches, hope with The Dreamer, a composition by Browne and Eugene Rodriguez that evokes the Dreamers’ bill affecting the children of immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States. And final punch with Until Justice Is Real. Intense and punchy at the same time.
The rest of the performance was imbued with good nostalgia with the sequence of Doctor My Eyesfrom Browne’s very first record in 1972, from the poignant Late For the Sky et The Pretender, that shared with James Taylor. The expected star of the evening who comes to play with his colleague in the first part. What friendship can do.
By alternating the vocal portions, the two performers shared the subject and the pleasure. Brel was singing to see a friend cry. Here we had: See two friends play… And share… And have fun… And commune with the audience. It was simply beautiful.
The galloping Running On Empty, during which we could see on screen the cover of the 1977 album which shows a road which brings us to the end of the clouds, completed the whole thing. Flawless final.
Less than half an hour later, James Taylor took possession of the stage with his colleagues. Browne had seven musicians and backup singers, Taylor had ten. Much better, Taylor had brought with him an extensive stage production, which he did not accustom us to during his many visits to Place des Arts.
We were able to measure the effect from the interpretation of Country Road and its violin scents. A giant tree sat on the left side. At each branch that overhung the stage was a lantern that could go up or down and change color, depending on the desired mood. On the rear screen, huge postcards, road maps and concert ticket stubs from yesteryear alternated in competing colors. Very eye-catching, visually speaking.
Taylor thanked the spectators for having kept their tickets for more than two years and while he announced that he would favor English, the one who expresses himself very well in French noted that
if you want me to translate something, i will try.
In voice, in shape and full of humor, Taylor has drawn mostly from his big bag of success, almost every time explaining the genesis of such and such a song. That’s Why I’m Herefor example, was written after the death of his friend John Belushi in 1982.
The second verse is entirely devoted to him. For me, it was a realization. So I dedicate this song to all the people who are recovering from something and tell you that I have several more of the same genre if you are fuckés.
The sunny Mexicocolored by a trumpet, the legendary Up On the Roofcomposed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin for the Drifters – with images of New York skyscrapers – and the energetic Steamroller, a parody blues that Taylor still performs with that intent 50 years later, formed the middle of this performance. Only false step, SnowTimewritten by Taylor in Montreal, but transposed in Toronto,
because it rhymed better. Sorry, James. A winter song at this time of year… Please. We can’t take it anymore.
In 2017, Taylor recorded a record called American Standard,
finally, the same name as my toilet bowl where there was a cover that no one remembered: As Easy As Rolling Off a Loga song from the 1920s
that no one had ever picked up except a cartoon (Katnip College) from Warner, the famous Merrie Melodiesin 1938. The cheerful, jazzy rendition unfolded with footage of the cartoon of yesteryear or the current musicians seen in an old 1950s television.
This little musical and temporal aside had the merit of bringing our attention back to the screen, which was obviously Taylor’s intention. By donning immediately afterwards, the legendary Sweet Baby James, we were still captivated by the animation which showed us the story of this young cowboy through books in relief (pop-up). The visual contribution, magnificent, was at the height of this song.
The coup de grace came immediately afterwards with Fire and Rain, this immortal who evokes the suicide of a friend and Taylor’s addiction to heroin. The American played it on the acoustic guitar, sitting on his stool, with a beam of light aimed at him. Standing ovation.
After darkness, light: the exquisite Carolina In My Mindthe well-meaning Shower The People et son refrain : « shower the people you love with love », ainsi qu’How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved By You), a great Marvin Gaye classic that Taylor made his own in the mid-1970s, brought us to the encore. Everywhere in the Bell Center, we saw people happy, even in love. There was real bliss in the air.
During the encore, James returned the favor to Jackson who came to perform
a song he knows i know, assured Taylor. You speak… Nothing less than Take It Easy, of the Eagles, written by Browne and Glenn Frey. Then, Browne joined the six-part choir for a touching and sensitive rendition of You’ve Got a Friendthe legendary Carole King song that Taylor also recorded in January 1971. But he let his friend market it on the album Tapestry the following month, before releasing its own version a few months later.
When the crowd began to sing the chorus, this interpretation alone summed up the three-hour concert: two longtime friends, artists by trade, with a dozen musician friends and some 7,000 one-night stands , all united, for an evening.