Singer-songwriter James Taylor had big plans for 2020 before, well, you know. There was a new album of standards, which arrived on February 28 of this year.
“Exactly the same week that COVID came out,” he noted wryly at the Honda Center on Saturday before performing a number from that record. “Kind of like dropping a record into a well.”
And there was a tour with Jackson Browne that was originally scheduled to hit Southern California in the summer of 2020.
“Sometimes it was doubtful that we would ever come back to you,” Taylor said after opening her headliner with “Country Road.”
Better late than never, though, because after everything that’s happened since the pandemic turned the world upside down, what better balm for the soul than the warm embrace of music from Taylor and Browne, who at 73 both remain among the greatest American singer-songwriters of their generation.
In a two-hour show that delivered 17 songs and almost as many dad jokes, Taylor was terrific. The concert, which featured a dozen musicians and singers from his All-Star Band, began quietly as the singer and the songs reintroduced themselves to the fans who filled the arena.
Early highlights included ‘Copperline’, a song inspired by his upbringing in North Carolina, ‘the musical version of a landscape painting’ and ‘That’s Why I’m Here’, a song inspired by death by overdose. of his friend John Belushi, who in turn inspired his own recovery from addiction.
“Mexico,” which sings Latin beats, rocked gently, before “Steamroller” saw Taylor strapping on a Carolina blue Fender Telecaster, the state of the art in guitars, Taylor joked.
“A big improvement over the gas and steam guitars that came before it,” he said before the song began. “We were actually playing in Pennsylvania recently, and you’d be surprised how many horse-drawn guitars are still in use there.”
He apologized for that one, but the audience was still laughing as the bluesy number swayed with keyboardist Larry Goldings adding organ swells under the horn strokes of saxophonist Lou Marini and trumpeter Walt Fowler.
The heart of the show came shortly before the end of the main set with the usual pairing of “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain”, two of Taylor’s most beloved songs. Both are sweet, the first a lullaby, the second a lamentation, filled with a kind of melancholy longing that things will be fine, that life will be better.
After a standing ovation for “Fire and Rain,” the melancholy rose for a trio of more hopeful and joyful songs. “Carolina In My Mind” featured beautiful harmonies from all five backing vocalists, including Taylor’s young son, Henry. “Shower The People” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” closed the main set.
The encore delivered four songs, including opening act Jackson Browne dueting back on “Take It Easy,” a hit for the Eagles written by Browne and that band’s Glenn Frey. Browne and Taylor’s wife Kim stayed on to add backing vocals on Taylor’s cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” which 50 years ago gave her her only No. 1 hit. .
After everyone but 20-year-old Taylor and Henry left the stage, father and son delivered a beautiful version of “You Can Close Your Eyes” to close the night.
Browne had opened the show at 7:30 p.m. sharp when many fans were still not in their seats. Those who had 13 songs in just over an hour that he and his band were on stage.
“Somebody’s Baby” opened its set, with Browne’s vocals, like Taylor’s, as loud and clear as ever. Raised in Orange County, mostly Fullerton, Browne introduced “Barricades Of Heaven” as a song written as he left home for the first time – “this time in my life as I was trying to figure out how go where I wanted.”
He often joked with the crowd about his teenage years in Orange County. After introducing steel guitarist Greg Leisz, who was terrific throughout the set, Browne noted that they both went to the same high school.
“I’m not going to tell you which high school I went to because of local rivalries,” he added. Don’t let him know we told you: it was Sunny Hills in Fullerton.
“Fountain Of Sorrow,” from 1974’s “Late For The Sky” album, stood out early in his set. Browne also played a pair of songs that reflected her lifelong beliefs and concerns about life in the modern world. “Downhill From Everywhere,” the title track from his new album, addressed environmental concerns, while that album’s “The Dreamer,” co-written with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and sung in English and Spanish, pleaded for kindness to people. immigrants.
The final third of his set delivered most of the songs fans were hoping to hear, starting with the rock ‘n’ roll of “Doctor My Eyes” followed by “Late For The Sky.”
Taylor came to join Browne for a duet on “The Pretender”, and like Browne two hours later, stayed behind to join the backing vocals on “Running On Empty”, which concluded Browne’s set with most of the audience standing and singing. together.