As I’ve gotten older, there has been a noticeable shift in what I find important. While I still seek out the new and novel, I have discovered the comfort that can be found in memories, when you can wrap yourself in nostalgia like a warm blanket. Music has offered me many opportunities to combine both - songs and artists I know well, but the new experience of seeing them perform live.
Tonight at U.S. Bank Arena, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt provided that comfort.
At the outset, the ever humble and affable Taylor took to the stage to introduce his “favorite singer/songwriter/musician on the planet,” the night’s opening act, Bonnie Raitt. Raitt came out with her signature Stratocaster guitar and spent the next hour with the audience in the palm of her hand. I am not as familiar with her catalog - so many of these songs were either entirely new to me, or I simply had not heard them in years - but I did know her to be one of the premier slide guitarists and unique and talented singers. She certainly did not disappoint on either front. After a few upbeat numbers with the band, she sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar, and performed a powerful version of Skip James’ “I’d Rather Be the Devil,” and followed that up with full-band send-ups of the biggest hits, including “Something to Talk About,” “Have a Heart,” and “Love in the Nick of Time,” during which she took a turn on the piano next to keyboardist Ivan Neville.
A particularly moving performance of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” earned a standing ovation, but the mood quickly picked back up with closers “That’s Just Love Sneakin’ Up On You” and a duet with Taylor on “Thing Called Love.”
After a quick 30 minutes change over, it was time for James Taylor and his band to take the stage - a stage that had been transformed into a memory box of sorts, like a shoebox of love letter and old postcards discovered on some dusty shelf. The show opened with film clips playing on screens hung behind and above the stage, showing photos and videos from throughout Taylor’s career. When the first notes of “Carolina In My Mind” started playing, the crowd was instantly hooked. The setlist was hit after hit, with seventeen songs and three encores, and it was certain there were people who left disappointed that he didn’t get around to playing their favorites. Each song, too, became an opportunity for Taylor to introduce - and gush over - the members of his backing band, which includes saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini of Blues Brothers and SNL fame. His stories came across as genuine and spontaneous, like these were the first time they’d ever been told. The audience responded in kind, singing and dancing along with songs they clearly loved - songs like “Country Road,” “Sunny Skies,” and “Steamroller” to name a few.
“Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain” brought the audience to their feet to sing and share in the experience. “Shed a Little Light,” “Your Smiling Face,” and “Shower the People” had even the most callous of attendees dancing along.
Taylor closed with “How Sweet It Is,” before returning to the stage for a raucous cover of “Johnny B. Goode” with Bonnie Raitt, followed by “You’ve Got a Friend,” and another duet with Raitt on “You Can Close Your Eyes.” This final song, with its haunting, ethereal harmonies, left the audience in awe of what they had just experienced.
Though Raitt is 69 and Taylor is soon to be 71, neither artist, nor their backing bands, showed any intention of slowing down or resting on their laurels anytime soon. I may have been dragging down the median age (to borrow a phrase from a friend who also attended), but I can scarcely remember a concert (or any event, for that matter) where everything just felt quite so warm and comfortable.
And maybe a little comfort every now and then is a good thing.