Folk giants King, Taylor bid Mellon Arena a classy farewell

Concert Review



When people think of the Civic Arena and the legends who made it the beloved landmark it became, James Taylor and Carole King do not spring to mind.

The arena's historical luminaries have names like Lemieux, Crosby, Springsteen, Diamond, Sinatra, even Presley.

But on what could be its last night full of life and people, the "old girl" as JT called it, deserved a celebration of timeless hits, and the illustrious folk pair were up to the task.

The farewell concert was billed as a long-awaited encore for the reunited troubadours, who hadn't raised their voices there together since February of 1971.

For you Rush and Aerosmith fans out there snickering, no, this was not a raucous farewell. However, it wasn't just Mellow Arena either. Mr. Taylor, with that honey-coated voice, only has one or two rock 'n' roll bones in his body -- and those rare attempts at dancing are a bit awkward, indeed.

What They Played
  • Something in the Way She Moves
  • So Far Away
  • Machine Gun Kelly
  • 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
  • A Natural Woman
Intermission

  • The Secret of Life
  • Crying in the Rain
  • The Loco-Motion
  • 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
  • You Can Close Your Eyes

The spunky Ms. King, on the other hand, still has the ability to make the Earth move under her feet.

'You're still damn cute, Carole!" one fan hollered. And he's right. With a girlish figure, a beaming smile and a head full of blonde curls, she's a pretty hot 68-year-old hippie -- to go with songwriting genius.

On a moving carousel, without the ponies, he melted hearts with versions of "Carolina in My Mind," "Sweet Baby James" and "The Secret of Life" that simply glowed. Helping to provide the most subtle backup possible were the same three guys who were there in the '70s -- guitarist Danny Kortchmar, ace drummer Russ Kunkel and bass guru/"wookie" Leland Sklar, a secret weapon in his own right.

Ms. King had her ballad moments with "So Far Away" and a slower "It's Too Late," with a jazzy piano interlude. She also rocked it up with "Smackwater Jack," a powerful "A Natural Woman," complete with a sexy showdown with Kootch, and a lights-up stomp through "The Loco-Motion."

At times, the songs were smartly paired, like "Beautiful" and "Shower the People," presented as being "in the same category of agnostic hymns," Mr. Taylor said, and worthy of praise.

For his part, JT never misses a note, either on voice or guitar. She reached for a few that weren't there, but when they weren't she compensated by nailing it with spirit and natural soul. She didn't write these songs to be easy to sing, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" being a perfect example. What she poured into it drew an emotional standing ovation.

He got his on a "Fire and Rain" that couldn't have sounded any better 39 years ago, a tribute to his stamina and modern acoustics.

The uncomfortable real estate issue was addressed early. "It's kind of bittersweet. We remember playing here in 1971. They say they're going to close the old girl down," he said to a chorus of boos. "I can think of a lot of things they can do in a space like this," he added to a round of cheers.

The subject came around again on their first duet and the last song of the main set, their shared hit "You've Got a Friend." Ms. King added a last verse wishing good luck to the Penguins in the new arena.

They returned with a tender "Up on the Roof" and a joyful "How Sweet It Is," which seemed like it might have been the end.

But then they took to the stools for the lullaby "You Can Close Your Eyes." If that's the last song ever played in this arena, it was a quiet, sad, humble and hopeful farewell.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-2576. First Published June 27, 2010 4:15 AM


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