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Live review: James Taylor and Carole King at the Hollywood Bowl


James Taylor and Carole King made no effort to disguise their ages Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl, where the two sixtysomething singers played the first of three dates on their Troubadour Reunion trek. 

The world tour — which stops Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Bowl and wraps July 20 at the Honda Center in Anaheim — comes 40 years after Taylor and King first performed together at the cozy West Hollywood club that gives the road show its name; a live CD-DVD, recorded at the Troubadour in 2007, debuted earlier this week at No. 4 on Billboard’s album-sales chart.

“We tried to reconstruct what was on those Troubadour set lists,” Taylor said with a laugh not long into the 2 ½-hour concert. “But it’s hard to remember.” Earlier he’d introduced guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russell Kunkel as “the original band Carole and I worked with back in 1903.”
You had to admire Taylor’s honesty regarding his role as pop’s folkie emeritus. But it was King who summed up the evening’s performance more accurately in a line from her 1971 hit “So Far Away”: “One more song about moving along the highway / Can’t say much of anything that’s new.”

Despite the warm reception by a capacity crowd content to stoke the fires of nostalgia, Thursday’s show offered depressingly little of value to anyone not predetermined to relive good times gone by. This wasn’t music that said anything interesting about aging, as recent work by Merle Haggard, Susan Boyle and the English singer Tracey Thorn has.

But neither was it music that defied age with Madonna-like verve: When King sang “The Loco-Motion,” which she penned with Gerry Goffin during their early-’60s stint as Brill Building songwriters, the result replaced youthful excitement with wedding-band schmaltz. So, too, did a corny rendition of “I Feel the Earth Move,” King’s first solo hit, feel like a betrayal of the tune’s gutsy thrust.

That said, King managed at least to summon some energy during her songs; most of Taylor’s selections sounded like lullabies, even though he only presented one, “Sweet Baby James,” as such. Not surprisingly, given the breadth of both artists’ catalogs, there were exceptions: Taylor’s “Copperline” was a lovely acoustic reverie, while Sklar and Kunkel gave King’s “It’s Too Late” a lithe soft-funk groove. Taking the stage on their own for a second encore, the two headliners harmonized with undimmed affection in “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

In a show built on memories, though, newly memorable moments—such as backup vocalist Arnold McCuller’s thrilling solo during an otherwise dreary “Shower the People”—were few and far between. King and Taylor didn’t disappoint Thursday because they’re too old to make a fresh impact on listeners. They disappointed because they seemed so uninterested in trying.

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: Carole King and James Taylor at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (78)

Judging last night's performance like an American Idol contest is ludicrous. The author missed the boat on this and may have reviewed the concert at face value, without taking in the rich history behind what he was seeing and hearing. Carole King is a music legend - it was an absolute joy and an honor to see her and James last night. I can't wait to read Mikael Wood's reviews when he is 68.

The Hollywood Bowl Venue is outdated and overpriced. Maybe they need to get on the Indian Casino ticket if they really want to make money. I paid good money for my wife and I to sit in an aluminum seat five rows from the stage. It was very uncomfortable to say the least. James and Carol only acknowledged those on the left side of the stage (opposite from where we sat of course). I got the tickets from James Taylor's website and was extremely disappointed. I will never purchase another ticket from it again. Keep the 350 dollars - seems they need it more than I do. As for the show, we left early...about an hour early. And Im huge fan of JT's...not this night though. Sorry, just being honest.

Had a better time at Wayman Tisdale's concert at the Thornton Winery in Temecula...God Bless his soul. Temecula by the way is far better than LA.

Makail, go back to video game reviews!

Wrong, wrong, wrong! I think we should ask the other 17,373 people who were singing beginning to end to weigh in since this reviewer clearly did not have Carolina on his mind. This was an amazing night with performers that left nothing on the table.

With all the great arts writers/critics that have been let go due to media cutbacks, why is it the LA Times stuck with this one?

"They disappointed because they seemed so uninterested in trying."
Weird i felt the same way about your article

Mr. Wood,
Did we see the same show?? Your last line about these artists seeming "disinterested" seems totally absurd to me. That show had incredible energy. Everyone was on their feet, crying, singing along and swaying to the music. The performers worked beautifully together and truly loved performing together.
No this concert was not a "message" kind of concert--but it never intended to be. Maybe YOU were at the wrong venue.

Wow. I am dumbfounded by this review. Mikael, you are obviously 24-years-old with the depth of a puddle, and the musical knowledge to match. For anyone to say that this show was anything but AWE-INSPIRING, obviously knows nothing about these two performers.

First of all, to sell out the Hollywood Bowl three nights in a row is a feat in itself. Mikael, if you had a party, how many people would attend? Exactly. The music of Carole King and James Taylor defined a generation. It continues to inspires singer-songwriters today. Carole King's songwriting catalog is so VAST, you'd be hard pressed to find six-degrees of separation between any current artist and Carole King.

I watched this show with jaw-dropping amazement. I cried, I danced, I laughed, I sang my heart out. As did everyone around me.

I hope that anyone going to tonight's show at the Bowl, scans these comments before forming an impression based on Mr. / Ms. Wood's review. Because it is probably one of the most off-base reviews I've ever read in my life.

This reviewer is an idiot. Why didn't you send someone with a knowledge of and an appreciation for the entire point of the tour? It was intended from its inception to be a retrospective and an homage to the Troubadour shows! James Taylor's voice alone - so beautiful and pure - is worth at least a dozen other bands I've seen. Carole King's songwriting and energy are fantastic. Reviewers like this would complain if they heard a reincarnated Mozart, dismissing him as old-fashioned! I'm so glad I didn't have to sit next to such an ill-informed, unsophisticated "critic." As it was, I had the joy of being surrounded by hundreds of people who found the entire evening transcendent, and got exactly what they came to hear!

Those who can get up and do.
Those who cannot write self important reviews.

Both of these performers are part of the fabric of many of our lives and that in itself is what makes their show relevant. I borrowed JT's guitar out of a closet at the Hit Factory in New York in 1971 and made my first recording demo with it (Thank you James), JT is one of my heroes in this business and even a less than stellar performance of "Locomotion" brings me back to happy times when I first heard the record by Little Eva.
Thank you both for all the great music.
As to this reviewer; he did get one thing right, Arnold McCuller is one of the finest singers on the planet.... But, other than that he is like all the rest of his over opinionated brethren, just another putz.....

Wood's review is indeed wooden, not to mention, ageist. The Carole King/James Taylor tour has already gotten 100% raves in Australia, Japan, and elsewhere in the US. The best reviewed and one of the most commercially successful tours launched thus far in 2010. I guess Wood felt the need to pander to the youth-obsessed Miley Cyrus gang by poking fun at two of most talented musical legends of the last 40 years who are still out there winning over both long-time and new fans.

Wait a minute. When steely dan does aja exactly as the album appeared 3o years ago, and is positively reviewed, what exactly is the difference?

I absolutely loved the concert last night. I think Mr. Wood is way off base in his criticism of the concert. Two giants of music such as Taylor and King do not need new work. Their abundance of incredible work is surely vast enough to entertain viewers which they certainly did at the Bowl. It was an incredible evening and the audience certainly responded. No new work needed Mr Wood. The idea is to entertain and that they did big-time.

Mr. Wood did you see the same concert I did? I could not disagree with your review more. To you these two icons seem "uninterested". Wow, where'd that come from? They made eye contact with each other, lead and followed one another, they were humbled by the love from the audience, they were engaging and gracious and heartfelt. This is James Taylor and Carole King - they don't need a Lady Gaga-esqu concert to prove their talents. James Taylor and Carole King could sit on the floor of the stage with no background scenary, no musicians, no nothing except the sound of their voices singing out in a sentimental journey for all the decades of great songs and lyrics they have given us - and that Mr. Wood is all that will ever be needed for Mr. Taylor and Ms. King. Your review could not have been farther from the truth.

I saw James Taylor and Carole King at the Hollywood Bowl last night! It was magic under the stars. Hit after hit! Songs we grew up with! Songs that shaped our lives! We knew every word, every riff, every nuance of melody and phrasing.

This was the first time the duo teamed up since their legendary gig at the Troubadour, here in LA, 39 years ago. Carole's voice was as frayed as a tattered flag that's been flying in the wind for years; and just as moving.

When she dipped into her iconic “Tapestry” songbook, the women in the audience shocked me with their response. They were on their feet - swaying and singing with an abandonment that seemed almost tribal.

I hadn’t realized that this brilliant volume of work must have been sort of a “Holy Grail” for young women; a mantra of liberation; a celebration of youthful womanhood that delved deeper into a woman’s psyche than the men in the audience had ever realized. It was truly a beautiful thing to behold.

James Taylor still sounds the same; maybe even more soulful, if that's possible. His voice was as pure and gentle and rowdy as ever. His guitar work was flawless and indelible.

When he slid into two of his anthems - Fire & Rain and Sweet Baby James, a cloth of memories enveloped the audience. You could feel 20,000 souls opening up; the "peace & love" that our generation sought to gift upon the world came back to embrace us once again, like a warm mother’s hug. It was beyond moving. It was spiritual.

At times, people were crying; no doubt in remembrances of days and dreams and friends and events long past. But most of the time, this group of “groovy old dudes & dudettes” were rockin’ & singin’ like we did “back in the day” - way before our kids were zygotes - when our lives flowed, unencumbered, like a river.

James and Carole are touchstones: Their unforgettable songs enriched our lives and brought us needed perspective; reconnecting the essence and innocence of our past with the hope and dreams of our present and future. Last night our mirrors were broken; there were no gray hairs, no bald pates, no sagging midriffs, and no senior citizens. We were all young, carefree, and vibrant again!

When the music ended, 20,000 people stood on their feet and gave Carole and James the heartfelt thanks they deserved. But before they finally disappeared backstage, we unanimously answered the musical query they so sweetly sang of earlier in the evening - “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

YES, James and Carole; we will love you, not only today and tomorrow - but forever!

I'm not sure Mr.or Mrs. Mikael Wood understands the word "Reunion". My wife and I went to this concert just to hear some of the songs that made them both popular and famous. They had standing ovations for 3 Encores and the people of my Generation enjoyed the concert to no end. I didn't expect "New Material" it was a Reunion .. sort of like old favorites.. guess your reviewer didn't understand the concept.. I would not have gone just to hear new stuff although I bet it would be really good.. We went to hear exactly what was performed with so much smoothness and ease by James Taylor and Carole King. The people in my generation "The 60's" got this concert. obviously your reviewer didn't. These two wonderful artist have been making crowds and generations happy with their Style and Music for probably longer than your reviewer been alive.. I've never seen so many happy members as my peer group was last night at this concert.. Robert Vaughn

I think the reviewer missed the point. Not all music is bombast, and pyrotechnics leading the listener to an effervescent pinnacle of delerium. These are two of the best songwriters around, bar none. They are playing with some of the most accomplished musicians out there and the performances are flawless. They actually ENJOY playing and playing together. . .and audiences enjoy hearing them. Is some of it sentimental, maybe even nostalgic? What if it is ?

I did not attend the show but I will be at the Honda Center in July. Suffice to say my sentiments echo those of other comments here. Transcendence is not the point: nostalgia is. To compare these two aging yet era-defining artists to someone like Susan Boyle is missing the point. The artists are keenly aware of time's passing, and at their ages it makes to be self-deprecating about it. They recognize there is nothing new under the sun. But what a delight it must for them, and for their fans, that the sun still shines on them.

The reviewer must be a fifteen -year old! I went to the concert Friday and it was exactly what I expected (and more!). J T's voice was still amazing and he is a ballad singer not a rock star! Ballad singers do not jump all over the stage. Why did I go? - simple - to hear the old songs for nostalgia sake. I didn't want to hear new stuff. That's why it was a "reunion' tour - I guess the reviewer missed that bit! Please do not insult me and the other oldies in the audience with your stupid remarks. You should be fired!

I attended the Thursday May 13 concert (1st of 3 Hollywood Bowl shows) and was thoroughly taken back in time to my youth, my high school days... Carole's resurrection of 'Song of Long Ago', a song I had long since forgotten off her 'Music' album, was so beautiful in its melody and harmony and loving sentiment, that it catapulted me back to an era of my life I had seemingly forgotten -- it seemed to reconnect me with myself... The song choice surely derived from James' having harmonized and played along on the original (and in concert, of course). This reviewer, Mr. Wood, clearly is in his twenties and has no emotional or musical connection to the iconic talent and enormously longstanding musical contributions of these two performers. James himself exhibited his well-known self-deprecating humor when he joked during the show about a song he was about to play being 'dangerous' to play at a particular juncture because it would be conducive to sleep, but at least we would all 'wake up refreshed...' The sell-out audience received the music it sought and paid for, not the rap or new-wave or techno-punk that this Mr. Wood seemed to have in mind...

What an amateur review. Like a high school paper. Please send someone who at least has a working minimal knowledge of music history. Wow, how this newspaper has slipped. Hilburn, where are you?

I was there for the 3rd date. And it was a concert for the ages. This review is ageist (asked where the old people songs were) and generation-gapped ("the duo were too old to make a fresh impact on new a audience"). Just goes to show you that ignorant youth is a liability for critics who don't understand the innocent simplicity of the civilized pop past. I feel so sorry for kids unlucky to know good music. Anyone who didn't like this show has a big "ism" chip on their shoulder and missed the good old days.

We did not have the pleasure of seeing James and Carole perform on Thursday, but we were there Friday and returned with our kids on Saturday. We did not want them to miss this rare opportunity to see JT, Carole and their band together again.

How honored we felt to be there. They defined the singer/songwriter generation. Their songs have comforted us for years and I was blown away by their immense talent, enthusiastic performances and the love they still feel about making their music together.

For two nights I was transported back to a time that I can only imagine. I've listened to their music for 40 years and to see them together, singing the songs I love and to share that with my kids, it's a memory that will last a lifetime. Sold out houses at the Bowl tells me that I'm not alone when I say their music is timeless.

Thank you to all involved, especially Carole and James for two nights we'll always remember!

This review belongs in the trash. James and Carole are soft pop Gods from a better time and place when artists had talent. No act alive today---rap, hip hop, grunge or the usual bohemian no talent dreck---will sell out the Hollywood Bowl 40 years from now. Food for thought.

I dobt Mickal Wood even was at The Hollywood Bowl to see Carole King and James Taylor's concert. If he were there he would have seen a sold out audience loving this two and a half hour concert. I supose he was into a crap concert; oh excuse me a rap concert.
If this sucked so bad then why was it sold out, and everywhere they go in this world it has been? Why has their music lasted over forty years, and many artist have recorded their songs?
The only thing James Taylor has lost was his hair, and I hope you look so good when you are in your sixties like Carole King.
I left the concert in tears because I was so emotional over this wonderful concert. My husband said it was the best concert he had been to in years and that was a lot.
THE LA TIMES needs to get rid of this so called revier cause he is wasting their money. He couldn't do an fair review if his life depended on it, and as far as I am concerned and all the people who attended this concert he has no talent, and should be fired!!!

Wow, interesting comments from the reviewer. "This wasn't music that said anything interesting about aging." No s***, Sherlock, considering they wrote and performed most of these songs in their late 20s/early 30s. If this says anything about aging, it shows just how well their music has aged over the years. I guess this music doesn't quite live up to the reviewer's standards, much like Christina Augilera's new material did in his fawning profile of her in Billboard magazine. That "Not Myself Tonight" is a real classic.

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