Carole King and James Taylor -- Concert Review

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It's a good thing the pairing of Carole King and James Taylor was an exhibition rather than a competition because her energy and enthusiasm made it no contest Tuesday night in Anaheim. He was funny and fuzzy all night, but she came to play.

King's voice never was perfect, but it remains distinctive, and she didn't shy away from Big Singing -- as many of her contemporaries do -- on the final night of an 11-week tour. Her uninhibited rasp is diametrically opposed to Taylor's eyes-closed, still-silky strains. And while he recited, she performed.

And what a performance. Showcasing most of her landmark "Tapestry" album and some of the pop classics she penned with ex-husband Gerry Goffin, King was all smiles as she worked the near-sellout crowd. She and Taylor traded lead vocals on almost every other song and sang together on most, but it was her material and delivery that made the nostalgic show so memorable.

Taylor called the closing show of their Troubadour Reunion tour "bittersweet." And that sentiment extends beyond the boomer Rock Hall of Famers onstage to the concert industry itself.

The U.S. jaunt began in early May to coincide with the release of the pair's CD/DVD "Live at the Troubadour." The disc was recorded during six shows in November 2007 that helped mark the 50th anniversary of the West Hollywood venue where King and Taylor first played together during the early '70s. It has sold more than 330,000 copies, spending all 10 of its chart weeks in the top 20.

But few could have foreseen the extent of the tour's success: grossing more than $60 million while playing to 95% capacity. The secret? A surprising intimacy, a swarm of terrific songs and the genuine camaraderie onstage.

The band intros came early because, as Taylor said, "The thing that made this tour authentic for Carole and me is that we have the original band" that played those early Troubadour shows. The stars and guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Lee Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel acknowledged one another throughout the night with pointed fingers and applause.

But how to even try re-creating the intimacy of the Troubadour? An in-the-round show with a slowly rotating circular stage -- one revolution every 15 minutes or so -- situated midfloor. It cut the huge arena down to size and gave everyone a good view, aided by a ring of several video screens.

The expertly paced show ran more than 2 1/2 hours, with a 20-minute break. They opened with Taylor's "Something in the Way She Moves," with just him, Sklar and King at her piano, tightly grouped as if on some dive's tiny stage. From there, they traded songs: her gorgeous "So Far Away"; his "Carolina in My Mind," which began with the headliners beautifully harmonizing; her "Jazzman," with Kortchmar's guitar filling in for Tom Scott's signature sax parts; Taylor's "Country Road," which featured a drums-and-voice clap-along break.

"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" closed the first set, which was good because it was a show-stopper. King, appropriately billed first and sporting black tights and spike heels, flirted with the boys in the band as she slinked around the stage singing the classic she reclaimed from Aretha Franklin. The crowd stood.

Three other songs from "Tapestry" -- the kind of classic rock you never hear on radio stations that are branded as such -- highlighted the second set: "Where You Lead," with its gospel-tinged opening; the bouncy "I Feel the Earth Move," accompanied by archival footage of people dancing; and "It's Too Late," a standout of the post-psychedelia/pre-disco singer-songwriter era that sounded as good as ever. Its extended piano break reminded of Traffic's "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."

They traded verses, appropriately, on a stirring version of "You've Got a Friend," during which King had a little fun with the lyrics, singing, "Tonight's the end of this amazing tour, here near the house of the corporate mouse."

During the final number, Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes," King put her head on his shoulder. An emotional end to an exceptional evening.

Venue: Honda Center, Anaheim (Tuesday, July 20)

SET LIST
Something in the Way She Moves
So Far Away
Honey Don't Leave L.A.
Carolina in My Mind
Way Over Yonder
Smackwater Jack
Country Road
Sweet Seasons
Mexico
Song of Long Ago
Long Ago and Far Away
Beautiful
Shower the People
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
**Intermission**
Secret O' Life
Crying in the Rain
Where You Lead
Sweet Baby James
Jazzman
Will You Love Me Tomorrow
Your Smiling Face
It's Too Late
Fire and Rain
I Feel the Earth Move
You've Got a Friend
(Encore)
Up on the Roof
How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)
You Can Close Your Eyes
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