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

May 14, 2010 | 12:21 pm


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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