Singer-songwriter James Taylor had big plans for 2020 before, well, you know. There was a new standards album, which arrived on February 28 of the same year.
“Exactly the same week that COVID came out,” he ironically noted at the Honda Center on Saturday before playing a number of that record. “Kind of like dropping a record into a well.”
And there was a tour with Jackson Browne that was originally scheduled to reach Southern California in the summer of 2020.
“Sometimes it was doubtful that we would ever get back to you,” Taylor said after opening her headlining set with “Country Road.”
Better late than never, because after all that has happened since the pandemic rocked the world, what better balm for the soul than the warm embrace of music made by Taylor and Browne, who at 73 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 brought together a dozen musicians and singers from his All-Star Band, got off to a smooth start as the singer and songs re-introduced 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 overdose death. drug addiction from his friend John Belushi, which in turn inspired his own recovery from addiction.
“Mexico,” which sings to Latin rhythms, rocked softly, before “Steamroller” saw Taylor strap on a blue Fender Telecaster Caroline, the cutting edge of guitar technology, joked Taylor.
“A big improvement over the gas and steam guitars that came before it,” he said before the song started. “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 blues number swayed with keyboardist Larry Goldings adding organ swells to saxophonist Lou Marini and trumpeter Walt Fowler.
The heart of the show arrived 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 gentle, the first a lullaby, the second a lament, filled with a kind of longing for things to be okay, for life to get better.
After a standing ovation for “Fire and Rain”, melancholy rose for a trio of more upbeat and joyful songs. “Carolina In The Morning” featured beautiful harmonies from the five backing singers, 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 the opening act Jackson Browne returning as a duet on “Take It Easy”, a hit for the Eagles written by Browne and Glenn Frey of that group. Browne and Taylor’s wife Kim stayed around to add backing vocals to Taylor’s cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” which 50 years ago gave her her only hit No. 1.
After everyone except Taylor and Henry, 20, left the stage, the father and son delivered a nice version of “You Can Close Your Eyes” to close the evening.
Browne had opened the show at 7:30 p.m. sharp when many fans were still out of place. Those who got 13 songs in just over an hour of him and his band were on stage.
“Somebody’s Baby” opened his set, with Browne’s voice, like Taylor’s, still strong and clear. Raised in Orange County, primarily Fullerton, Browne introduced “Barricades Of Heaven” as a song written as he left home for the first time – “that time in my life as I was trying to figure out how go where I wanted “.
He often joked with the crowds about his teenage years in Orange County. After introducing steel guitarist Greg Leisz, who has been 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 the 1974 album “Late For The Sky”, stood out at the start of his set. Browne also performed a pair of songs that reflected his long-held beliefs and concerns about living in the modern world. “Downhill From Everywhere”, the title track from her new album, addressed environmental concerns, while “The Dreamer” from this album, co-written with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and sung in English and Spanish, pleaded for kindness towards 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 over to join Browne for a duet on “The Pretender,” and like Browne two hours later, stayed on to join the backing vocals on “Running On Empty,” which concluded Browne’s set with most of the audience standing and singing. along.