TAMPA — First, apologies to my neighbors in section 201 of Amalie Arena – I hope I didn’t sing along with James Taylor too loudly.
But it was hard not to.
So many of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s songs are too familiar, too comfortable, like warm, fuzzy slippers you don’t want to take off.
On Friday night, Taylor kicked off the first of two sets for a crowd of 9,000 by getting in the way-back machine. “Something In The Way She Moves,” from Taylor’s 1968 inaugural album, set the tone for an evening of nostalgia sprinkled with new tunes such as “Today Today Today.”
With every song Taylor gave a bit of background or explanation.
Of the opener, he reminisced about singing it for Paul McCartney and George Harrison when he auditioned for Apple Records. He called 1968 a transformative year, though he said later in the show, “I wish I could remember more of it.”
From a simple set that changed with every song thanks to eight large pillars that at one moment looked like New York skyscrapers to leaves changing color in his home state of North Carolina, the troubadour continued through his cache of well-worn and well-loved hits.
From “Everyday,” his cover of a Buddy Holly tune, to “Millworker” from a failed Broadway musical to “tree-hugger” songs such as “Lo and Behold” and “Country Road,” his band of all stars and back-up singers were a cohesive support to a 66-year-old singer who sounded as clear and solid as he did on his first album.
The biggest ovations from the first set were for the beloved “Carolina in My Mind” that he said was born of homesickness as he watched the Beatles cut their “White Album,” and “Sweet Baby James,” alone worth the price of admission, a sweet cowboy lullaby for his nephew that brought the audience to its feet.
He joked about the scheduled intermission, saying that he just stood behind the curtain for 20 minutes looking at his watch, but in reality he stayed on stage, posing for photographs, signing autographs and talking with audience members.
After the intermission he briefly set aside his acoustic guitar for baby blue electric guitar and played a rousing bluesy “Steamroller.” That was followed by a run of the greatest hits, including “Only One,” “Up on the Roof” and “Mexico.”
When he struck the chords of “Fire and Rain,” the applause was spontaneous and many in the crowd sang along. And at the end everyone stood.
The two and a half hour show wrapped with an encore comprised of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “You’ve Got a Friend” which became an arena sing along .