Review: James Taylor @ ICC Sydney Theatre

James Taylor played ICC Sydney Theatre on 23 April, 2024.
Grace has been singing as long as she can remember. She is passionate about the positive impact live music can have on community and championing artists. She is an avid animal lover, and hopes to one day own a French bulldog.

Astonishing. Best show of the year!

The skies are clear, but there's a nip in the air around the ICC in Sydney (23 April). The line stretches around the auditorium waiting to see legendary performer James Taylor.

Taylor enters solo in the darkness, a single light beaming down on him. The applause is rapturous. "What a lovely thing to hear," he says to the crowd before beginning, indicating a night of interaction is imminent.

He begins 'Something In The Way She Moves' solo, his guitar bright and high. "Sometimes the things I lean on lose their meaning," he sings, his voice cutting into your soul, clear and concise. The band joins as three-part harmonies swirl around the stage.

"I auditioned for my first record deal with that song with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in a small room in London," Taylor shares at the song's conclusion. "Paul liked it enough to sign me, and George liked it so much he went home and wrote it himself."

The sold-out audience laughs. "I stole everything I could from The Beatles. Everything that wasn't nailed down." Who knew we would see an A-grade comic here tonight?

Taylor then begins 'Handy Man', purple lights flooding the stage. The crowd sings in unison, as Taylor's falsetto soars. He is enigmatic. It is impossible to look away.

"That song was written by a guy called Otis Blackwell for a guy called Jimmy Jones, and we cut it because we had half an hour of studio time left and I wanted anything to use up the time, and now I play that song every night," Taylor says. Life eh.

Taylor shares about losing friend John Belushi, and how it prompted his own recovery from addiction, the crowd clapping their support. "I'll probably fall off the wagon tonight," Taylor breaks the tension.

'That's Why I'm Here' follows and lyrics 'John's gone found dead. . . said to have drowned in his bed' ring with new meaning. 'Yellow And Rose' starts with delectable harmonies as a tambourine comes out. Everything is better with tambourine.

"Another song for you now. No surprise there I guess," Taylor jokes again. He could not be more likeable. The slide guitar enters for 'Anywhere Like Heaven', as the male and female backing singers share a sweet moment of dancing side to side.

The band is tight, the tune emotional, and it certainly feels heavenly in here. Taylor removes his jacket post-song and whistles ring through the air. "That was exciting wasn't it?" Taylor asks to more crowd laughs. "Later I might take out my teeth." The crowd roars. "Thanks for making an old guy feel good." Taylor is generous and endearing.

'Country Road' starts beautiful and warm under orange lights, unexpectedly simmering to a raging boil as drummer Steve Gadd thumps single kicks and snare hits. The mood is electric. Taylor introduces backing singer Andrea Zahn who plays an exceptional fiddle jig.

The aqua lights swirl along the crowd creating an ocean for 'Sweet Baby James'. It is truly a sweet life moment. Taylor then recounts nostalgic studio days alongside Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and how they played on each other's albums.

He introduces band leader Jimmy Johnson who lifted the stems of 'Long Ago And Far Away' so they could have Joni Mitchell's recording sing alongside them live. It is a testament to technology and a cool experience.

Taylor returns from the intermission and signs many autographs for the lucky front patrons. The band plays humorous jives while the crowd waits.

'Carolina In My Mind' starts the second set and is the highlight so far. Songs like these make you yearn for a time simpler, when tunes on the radio written on acoustic guitar were all that mattered and pure music moved you.

Taylor then introduces his other backing singers, before 'Mexico' shines under green and pink lights. He then dons the electric guitar for 'Steamroller', featuring his harmonica solo. The song enters thunderous ground, catapulting into the stratosphere. The crowd can hardly contain their joy.

'Fire And Rain' has everyone singing, before Carole King cover 'Up On The Roof' glides nicely. 'Shower The People' features a clap along and a stunning vocal performance by Dorian Holley. 'You've Got A Friend' is a moment in time before 'How Sweet It Is' brings the mood sky high courtesy of quality musicianship.

The encore ensues with 'Shed A Little Light' and more perfect harmonies, while 'Your Smiling Face' leaves us doing just that. The crowd is so excited, Taylor agrees to a second encore with 'Song For You Far Away', a perfectly intimate way to end an intimate night.

Taylor towers above the rest as a songwriter, performer, and musician. Energetic and engaging belying his years, while warm and tender in a way few carry, Taylor is a remarkable man. To experience such a night of astonishing music is truly humbling. You leave exceedingly grateful.

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