“This is like one of those dreams where you go back to school,” James Taylor said last night with a grin as he and longtime friend and fellow legendary singer-songwriter Carole King took the stage for the first of six shows held during a three-night engagement organized to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Troubadour. Both Taylor and King first played the famed intimate West Hollywood venue in 1969 — in King’s case, those shows marked her debut as a solo artist after she had already made her name as a songwriter in New York. Taylor joked that the memories get a bit hazier after 1969: “We played here repeatedly,” he noted dryly at one point, “evidently.”
Nearly four decades after helping define the singer-songwriter movement that would flower in the Seventies, the pair — backed brilliantly by veteran guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar — teamed up and traded songs like the two musical masters that they are. (Ticket proceeds for the show benefited charities such as Natural Resources Defense Council and MusiCares.) The set list focused firmly on songs that the pair could have played at their debut, and included an impressive array of enduring classics, both his (“Something in the Way She Moves,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Country Road,” “Fire & Rain”) and hers (“It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Feel The Earth Move”). King and Taylor backed each other warmly throughout the night, and their shared duet versions of “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Up on the Roof” were particular standouts.Despite just a few quick rehearsals, the band — known on their own as the Section — provided perfect accompaniment, and rocked in a way that defied more mellow expectations, particularly during Korchmar’s fiery solos and Kunkel’s propulsive fills.
The shows (which were filmed and recorded) drew many of King and Taylor’s old friends. Carole King repeatedly paid loving tribute to her former husband and great collaborator Gerry Goffin who sat upstairs, as well as some of the other Brill Building songwriters who were attendance, including Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and Carole Bayer Sager. Others expected to attend later shows included Joni Mitchell, Steven Spielberg, Dave Stewart and Mandy Moore. Also spotted in the crowd for the first early show were two of King’s other collaborations with Gerry Goffin, Louise and Sherry Goffin, as well as King’s son Levi.
Asked what brought him to the show, Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles said, “How could I not be here?” before adding that he and his wife had brought their son along to share the musical experience. The Troubadour inspired the Eagles song “The Sad Cafe,” but for Schmit, the place has many happy memories. He pointed to a nearby corner where he had gotten last minute musical drills before joining Poco for the first time onstage here, also in 1969. “For a lot of us, there’s a lot of history in this room.” Last night, the history was very much living, and definitely not so far away.