EXTRAVAGANZA AT TANGLEWOOD

Read our critic's review of James Taylor's 1st Tanglewood concert (1974)

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The Berkshire Eagle’s review of James Taylor’s first performance at Tanglewood on July 30, 1974, was published on Page 6 in the July 31, 1974, edition. "For his part, Taylor managed to sound more relaxed and spontaneous, apparently oblivious to the efforts of many fans in the front row who seemed determined to devour him bodily (for love, of course) rather than listen to his music," our critic wrote.

Music review

Extravaganza at Tanglewood

By David Pitt

TANGLEWOOD was the scene of a real extravaganza last night. Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor performed, and nearly 14,850 people showed up to hear the results. Judging from the wild ovations, most members of the audience felt they got their money’s worth.

There were a number of reasons why. For one thing, the sound — plagued as it was with poor balance in spots and echoes in others — was nonetheless the best of the “Popular Artists” series this season. For another, the lighting effects — especially for Taylor — were splendid. And as if that weren’t enough, both artists played everything their fans wanted to hear.

•  •  •

Ronstadt was in fine voice. Every time I hear her in concert, a marked improvement is evident. This time her voice — always fluid — seemed fuller and more mature. She came on stage in a polka-dot Daisy Mae getup, carrying a guitar almost bigger than she was, and immediately launched into a lovely rendition of that supersentimental Rick Roberts song, “Colorado.”

After that it was a little bit of everything — Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” “Willin’” by Lowell George, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” even “Heatwave.” She was backed by an able, six-piece band, with especially notable performances by pedal steel player Ed Black and Andrew Gold on keyboards.

The only trouble with Ronstadt’s set was her tendency to make every song sound like a two-minute cut off a 45 record. Her singing was beautifully melodic, professionally polished and disturbingly unengaging. She just couldn’t seem to bring herself to break out of the tightly structured arrangements and boogie a little. Instead everything was just so, and ultimately, a bore.

•  •  •

For his part, Taylor managed to sound more relaxed and spontaneous, apparently oblivious to the efforts of many fans in the front row who seemed determined to devour him bodily (for love, of course) rather than listen to his music. He opened his set with solo renditions of pleasant, original tunes, including that all-time Taylor favorite, “Goin’ to Carolina.”

Media: galleryThen, he brought on a band hard to fault — David Spinozza on guitar and harmonica; Hugh McCracken, second guitar; Andy Mason, bass; Don Grolnick on keyboards; and Rick Marotta on drums. Together they played a variety of original songs, some from Taylor’s new album, some from his very first.

I very much liked the rollicking version they did of “I’m a Night Owl,” and a nice piece called “Let It All Fall Down.” Taylor’s warmly nasal voice was as soft and soothing as ever, and nowhere as much as in early numbers like “Fire and Rain” and “Anywhere Like Heaven.” Hearing songs from his album “Sweet Baby James” is like encountering old friends despite the tragedy and pathos that underlies some of the lyrics.

•  •  •

The concert ended as classically as James Taylor could manage; that is to say, with his wife, Carly Simon, whirling on stage to do a duet of “Mockin’ Bird.” With the band boring in, the Taylors lindied joyously, obviously having a grand time and bringing down the house in the process. 

Taylor bowed out for the evening by returning with a solo encore: no less than the tender, unoverplayable ballad, “Sweet Baby James,” complete with allusions to Stockbridge in the snow. After his final obligatory gesture, the house lights came on. No injuries were reported.

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