Last Night: Why Arena-Rockers James Taylor and Carole King Will Still Be Worth Listening to After Another 40 Years

James Taylor and Carole King played KeyArena on Sunday, May 9.
Decades after interest in LCD Soundsystem has evaporated along with that those pirated MP3s of the band's new album, and years after history's discarded Lady Gaga and Susan Boyle, people who appreciate pop music will still be listening to Carole King and James Taylor.

Sure, the pair came to power during a time when a handful of kingmakers--in Taylor's case, they were kids named McCartney and Harrison--decided whose records got made and had a shot at an audience. Cultural touchstones may never again be as pronounced as the first time you heard "The Loco-Motion" or "Fire and Rain," and so few will never again mean so much to so many.

But if last night's performance by James Taylor and Carole King--in one band, in the round, on a constantly rotating stage--proved anything, it's that while a good clip on YouTube, a strong presence on Facebook, and witty bursts of 140 characters may be enough to win 15 minutes of fame, it takes strong songwriting, a timeless melody, and convincing performers to survive four decades.

While Carole King epitomizes the singer/songwriter sticker -- her songs were made famous by Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles long before Tapestry made King a household name -- together with Taylor, the pair are nothing short of an arena-rock act, something they've been practicing since the early '70s. Last night's show at KeyArena had all the fixings of an arena-rock set: explosive vocals that pierced the back row (King during "I Feel the Earth Move"), show-stopping quiet ones (Taylor's "Something In the Way She Moves"), massive audience interaction ("Natural Woman"), and a fair helping of cheese (King actually did that brand new dance, "The Loco-Motion" to close out the night).

When dealing with artists and hits made famous 40 years ago, when much of the audience was childless and new drivers, nostalgia's of great concern. A little is allowed, and the scrapbook of old photos that made the rounds on the projectors accomplished that last night. But King and Taylor presented themselves with grace, performing updated renditions of their classics. They weren't trying to be people they weren't or that they used to be. The purpose of the night was not to re-create the experience of their pair's famed residency at LA's The Troubadour 40 years ago--where this The Troubadour Reunion tour takes its name--just to take another crack at the music.

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