For a man whose career began in the early '70s by exploring internal anguish, James Taylor sure seems cheery these days. At the Pacific Amphitheatre on Saturday night, he engaged the audience with all sorts of good-natured quips and antics, despite a collection of tunes that often were far from upbeat.
Judging by the adulation of the staid but attentive crowd, Taylor is now an icon among yuppies, perhaps because his music, content aside, shares some of the values attributed to upscale life styles. Taylor pays fierce attention to the quality of his music, playing precise, pretty acoustic guitar while backed by a tightly arranged band that included two backup singers (Arnold McCuller and the ever-popular Rosemary Butler) and a lap steel guitar player (Danny Dugmore).
Yet Taylor's songs, once actually celebrated for their sensitivity, now sound almost wimpy, so slight at times that they seem devoid of emotional resonance. Tune after tune about loneliness and lost loves, interspersed with imagery of leaves falling and rainbows ending, wore as thin as Taylor's hair long before the end of the first half of the evening.
Taylor's set, which was divided into two 45-minute segments, had its share of hits, including "Fire and Rain," "Carolina on My Mind" and "Mexico," but they were surrounded by a liberal dose of newer Taylor tunes, all of which could double as Muzak. The veteran singer-songwriter will be at the Universal Amphitheatre for four nights starting Wednesday.