Review: Carole King and James Taylor at Vector Arena

By Peter Calder

Not just Carole King and James Taylor, but the whole backing band from that first gig 40 years ago came too.
Not just Carole King and James Taylor, but the whole backing band from that first gig 40 years ago came too.

It was, let it be said, some reunion.

King and Taylor are calling the four-month tour that brought them to Auckland on Saturday night the Troubadour Reunion. The reference is to their first performance together, in 1970, at the fabled club in West Hollywood.

But the reunion isn't just of the headliners. The backing band from that 40-year-old gig came too - the backing band of choice for the entire singer-songwriter movement King and Taylor starred in: silken bassist Leland Sklar, looking as always like a lost Old Testament prophet; Russ Kunkel, whose drumming was so solid he was practically the evening's musical director; and guitarist Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar.

With an extra keyboardist and backing vocalists, it was an impressive package.

Much of the charm of both these legends' music always resided in its astringent simplicity, and aficionados might have pined for fewer stadium-rock, drawn-out arrangements and more moments in which a spotlight picked out two stools and one guitar.

When that happened - in a beautiful duet of You Can Close Your Eyes during the encore - it was pure magic.

On the last date of the downunder leg of the tour, Taylor got a big cheer for comparing the audience to the "wooden statues" they played to in Sydney and plainly revelled in a hugely enthusiastic reception.

Each artist's compositions took turns through the well-polished 30-song set that touched all the bases from Will You Love Me Tomorrow? (which King, incredibly, co-wrote with Gerry Goffin when she was just 18) to a rousing Locomotion finale, stopping at all the stations of their brilliant careers.

If the set had a fault, it was a predictability that, I suspect, most punters, hungry for the hits would have appreciated. What price a version of hits they've never sung (King's One Fine Day or a cover of another artist's classic), just to liven up proceedings?

But nobody in the packed house seemed unhappy with what was delivered. For a woman knocking on 70, King lights up damn bright and her voice was denser and richer than its younger counterpart.

Taylor, meanwhile, goofing around on Steamroller Blues, still gave us plenty of that voice, like honey on magnolia blossom, in Carolina and Fire and Rain.

An evening to treasure. These troubadours will probably not pass this way again.

- NZ Herald

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