Easygoing and personable on stage Tuesday night in the UNO Lakefront Arena, James Taylor entertained the capacity crowd with many of the old favorites people came to hear, plus some new songs, too.
The lanky, casually dressed, 66-year-old singer came across as an unpretentious guy who had showed up to play for old friends. He spent most of the concert sitting on a stool at the front of the stage.
Taylor usually played acoustic rather than electric guitar as he performed such classics as “Carolina in My Mind,” “Country Road,” “Fire and Rain” and, his opening selection, “Something in the Way She Moves.”
The latter song, from his 1968 self-titled debut album, encapsulates his singer-songwriter style: understated, soothing vocals, sincere delivery and his own quiet, finger-picked guitar accompaniment.
The relatively small UNO arena suited Taylor’s intimate, personal songs well. A pair of video screens on each side of the stage almost seemed unnecessary.
Simple and direct though much of Taylor’s music is, he brought an 11-member group of musicians and singers with him. In line with the soft nature of his music, all of the musicians weren’t on stage all the time.
Taylor introduced many of his selections, especially less obvious material. “Lo and Behold,” from 1970’s “Sweet Baby James” album, he explained, “is a theme that keeps coming back. Nature as church, hymns for agnostics.”
Indeed, “Lo and Behold,” featuring his trio of backup singers and veteran sax man Lou Marini, sounded like gospel. In a similar vein, the nostalgic “Copperline,” a song Taylor co-wrote with the late North Carolina playwright and author Reynolds Price, is his musical depiction of a landscape.
The rural theme continued with an early hit, “Country Road.” Characteristically, it began in a mellow mood before gaining steam. A drum solo by another of Taylor’s well-traveled musicians, Steve Gadd, signaled a louder, crowd-pleasing end for “Country Road.”
Although Taylor hasn’t released an album of new songs in years, he featured quite a few of them in his UNO show. They included the feel-good “Today Today Today,” a country-tinged piece that featured Andrea Zonn’s fiddle playing and Michael Landau’s twanging electric guitar.
Taylor’s new material is respectably good, but because he has had so many hits, requests were inevitable.
“Yeah, we’ll do that,” he said after one shouted request. “But you’ll have to wait a while, because we’re here now,” he added as he held up an enormous set list and pointed to song No. 6 on the list.
Following an intermission during which Taylor sat on the edge of the stage signing autographs and posing for pictures, more hits arrived with “Fire and Rain,” “Handy Man,” “Shower the People” and the upbeat, pop-oriented “Mexico” and “Your Smiling Face.”
By the time Taylor and his full band rolled through the encore selection “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” the show had modulated from a singer-songwriter night with a star to a big, not-so-laid-back party.