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James Taylor fires up a fellow legend at Caesars debut

Updated April 20, 2019 - 8:37 am

As I slid into my seat at James Taylor’s opening-night show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, I looked directly into the back of a tall man with a big head of hair.

“Great,” I thought. “I’m stuck behind this guy’s pompadour for the next two hours.”

Then I realized who it was. This pompadour was legendary. I recognized this man, and also his daughter seated at his right. Then his son-in-law, then his drummer, then his music director.

All of them members of Team Bill Medley.

This was a most righteous development, seated behind founder of the Righteous Brothers — and a Strip headliner, with Bucky Heard, at Harrah’s Showroom — for this wonderful musical performance. I leaned in and told him I was in the neighborhood.

Medley smiled and said, “We are going to experience some great music tonight.”

And we did. Taylor delivered a performance that was at once grandiose and homespun, his opening set reflecting his childhood home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a wood-built cabin with a living room, a deck and stairs leading to the stage. Taylor was said to be nervous about this dozen-show residency, but he countered his unease with humor.

After a long lag early in the show, he said, “We run with the precision of a Swiss watch.” He reminded that he had the songs written down on poster board, “That’s how we do it up here,” he said, turning the handwritten panel for the crowd to see. He didn’t always obey the list, though. When a fan from the nether regions requested “Walking Man,” he played it, out of order.”

His avuncular disposition carried through a set list filled with his hits, and these songs are not just musically magical, but still speak today. “Fire and Rain” can be applied to any relationship or challenge at any time, of course. “Mexico” was bright and beautiful, the back of the stage erupting in Mexico-themed floral patterns.

“Steamroller” carried an unexpected Vegas flair, as Taylor performed with images of Elvis, who performed the song at the Las Vegas Hilton, on the LED screens. Taylor was also shown cavorting with his doggie, and also woodworking around his home.

Taylor mostly led the audience, rife with graybeards but also with many younger fans, on a trip through time. He talked of singing “Something In the Way She Moves” to Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968, the lyric inspiring the opening line in Harrison’s Beatles’ hit “Something.”

He ventured to a set dressed as the Troubadour club in L.A., which sparked the careers of such rock icons as Elton John, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey and Linda Ronstadt. Taylor’s own career was launched there in July 1969, “Fire and Rain” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Shed a Little Light” highlighted that trek to the past.

And through that voyage, the man in front of me threw his fist in the air and routinely pointed at Taylor, as if to show him his own sign-language endorsement.

At the end, the Righteous Brother smiled, shook his head, and happily called out a profanity.

“Was that great, or what!” Medley said. “It’s just great to listen to great music. That man is great.” Taylor isn’t a Righteous Brother, but brother, he is righteous.

What’s up with Joe?

A YouTube video of guitar great Joe Perry struggling through the rock classic “Livin’ On the Edge” last Saturday at Park Theater rattled some Aerosmith fans this week.

That video, which originally appeared on a fan Facebook page, was taken down Friday (the others from that night that were shot by a poster named Toshi Aizawa are still up). But Perry was simply not on point, for some reason, during that song, appearing to veer in to some other number during his usually recognizable solo.

The 68-year-old Perry has suffered from some health problems over the past several months, collapsing after joining Billy Joel onstage for “Walk This Way” at Madison Square Garden in November.

The mitigating factor is, Perry and the band played great in the opening-night show I caught on April 6. But Steven Tyler is known as a notorious task masker, and anything short of excellence everywhere in this residency won’t be tolerated.

The Manilow 500

Barry Manilow celebrated his 500th show at International Theater at Westgate Las Vegas on Thursday night. That run dates to when he performed at the Las Vegas Hilton from 2005-2010, and the hotel was the Las Vegas Hilton. He also performed a two-year residency at Paris Theater.

Manilow marked the occasion with a small reception after the show, and posed with Winston, the 6-month-old pooch who is now Westgate’s official mascot.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found atreviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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