From the name of the tour to the all-oldies setlist to the inevitable set-closer "You've Got a Friend," Carole King and James Taylor's "Troubadour Reunion" tour promises musical nostalgia of the warmest, fuzziest kind. This they delivered to a sold-out house on Saturday night — the first of two nights at the Garden — playing two-and-a-half hours of familiar songs. But there was also genuine mutual affection on stage, the kind one almost never sees from reunited vets — and there was enough of it to make this show more moving than any cynic would expect.
The tour's title refers to a string of shows that the pair did at the Troubadour in Hollywood in 1970 — just after the Sweet Baby James
album made Taylor a sensation, and just before King made her superstar move with Tapestry
. Their lives went in different directions afterward: Taylor shed his youthful angst (and his heroin habit) and became a polished pro, touring almost annually. And King went on to an up-and-down personal life (see Sheila Weller's book Girls Like Us
for the grisly details), and a spotty and sporadic string of latter-day albums.
So the current tour is partly about getting back to the garden. Taylor stuck mainly with his early albums, which remain his most resonant (he proved as much when he jumped ahead to 1977 for the cute but lightweight hit "Your Smiling Face"). King stayed in her heyday as well, playing most of Tapestry and a few songs that she and original partner Gerry Goffin wrote in their Brill Building days. The pair was on stage together all night, adding guitars, piano, and harmonies to each other's songs. Reuniting the original band (bassist Lee Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, and guitarist Danny Kortchmar) made a lot of difference. These were the guys who turned "laid back" into a compliment and made an art out of backing acoustic players without getting in the way.
The early hits retained their magic (you can hate soft rock and still admit that Taylor's "Country Road" is a gorgeous tune), but the night's best song was written nearly a decade before that Troubadour debut. "Crying in the Rain," written by King and Howard Greenfield, is one of the loveliest ballads the Everly Brothers ever cut, and King and Taylor sang it in close, Everlys-style harmony, with King doing the bridge. They sang it huddled around one mike, and King looked positively giddy as she gazed into Taylor's eyes; he gave her a long hug afterward. For the moment, King and Taylor, who are 68 and 62, respectively, looked and sounded like a pair of love-struck kids.