CELEBRATING 40: REVISIT SIMON & GARFUNKEL’S EPIC CENTRAL PARK REUNION.JOIN US.

Live at the Beacon Theatre
Watch film now

Live at the Beacon Theatre

“Live at the Beacon Theatre” features legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor taking us on a spirited journey through his acclaimed catalog. Filmed in 1998, this version features footage not seen in the original PBS broadcast.

A Modest Folk-Pop Icon

3 Min Read

In an interview included with the 1998 concert film “Live at the Beacon Theatre,” James Taylor expresses surprise at his career longevity and the enduring support of fans. While emphasizing that he derives great joy from playing live and still had deep passion for music, he goes on to note he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d continue.

Taylor has never been one to take his longevity for granted, given a past that includes well-publicized relationship turmoil, heroin addiction and serious bouts of depression.

The demure and even understated tone of his response might be surprising coming from a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who could easily be coasting into the folk-pop twilight by riding hits such as “Fire and Rain” (from the hit 1970 LP “Sweet Baby James”), “How Sweet It Is” and his empathetic take on the Carole King-penned “You’ve Got a Friend.” But Taylor has never been one to take his longevity for granted, given a past that includes well-publicized relationship turmoil, heroin addiction and serious bouts of depression.

Despite his uncertainty at the time of the Beacon Theatre concert, Taylor was embarking on what would become a new and remarkably long-lived career rejuvenation. Earlier that year, his warmly received 1997 album “Hourglass” — his first studio full-length since “New Moon Shine” in 1991 and first Billboard Top 10 album since the early ‘80s — won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Album.

The ebullient tone of the filmed performance is somewhat at odds with ruminative topics Taylor addresses on “Hourglass,” including the 1993 death of his brother, Alex, on “Enough to Be on Your Way.” Other songs find narrators sifting through the wreckage of their lives and trying to start over. Appropriately enough, the “Hourglass” tracks included on “Live at the Beacon Theatre” are treated with reverence. A hushed chorus of backing vocals propels “Line ‘Em Up,” while “Little More Time with You” boasts an easygoing tempo and smoldering blues guitar licks.

In a quintessentially Taylor-esque moment, the musician prefaces the wistful, percussion-speckled “Jump Up Behind Me” — a song inspired by his dad, who came to Taylor’s aid during a rough time in his personal life — with such understated modesty that it’s touching.

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1997, Taylor clarified that “Hourglass” wasn’t necessarily a dark album. “The songs aren’t laments. They’re mostly pretty joyous in one way or another. They seem to move me that way.” Joy permeates the concert despite the occasionally serious subject matter. Taylor grins throughout the performance, and exudes a beatific vibe while crooning his 1973 hit “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and bringing verve to a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.”

A robust cast of musicians backs Taylor, including some of his long-time vocal collaborators (Arnold McCuller, Kate Markowitz and David Lasley) and new-to-him live instrumentalists, including percussionists Steve Jordan and Luis Conte. The mix of musicians brings a fresh sheen to Taylor’s catalog: Both “Only a Dream in Rio” and “Mexico” possess Latin rhythms and feel, while a lone cello underscores the solemn tone of a stripped-down “Fire and Rain.”

“Live at the Beacon Theatre” foreshadows how Taylor’s touring eventually evolved. Starting in the 2010s, his concerts were billed as James Taylor and His All-Star Band, and had the same free-flowing collaborative spirit. Moreover, this 1998 set feels like the start of a new phase of Taylor’s career. Occasionally, he looked back during the subsequent decades; in 2007 he reunited with Carole King for a concert at famed Los Angeles club The Troubadour, where the pair had played back in 1970.

More frequently, he’s looked ahead in collaborations with the Chicks on “CMT Crossroads”; toured with sparser accompaniment during the 2007 “One Man Band” era; and even won another Grammy Award, for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, after teaming up with Alison Krauss for “How’s the World Treating You.”

Taylor could’ve easily settled into a nostalgia-heavy groove. Instead, he nurtured his creative spark so it has continued to burn for three-plus decades — perhaps surprising even the self-effacing troubadour of 1998.

Annie Zaleski is an award-winning journalist, editor and critic based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her profiles, interviews and criticism have appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, NPR Music, Guardian, Salon, Billboard, Stereogum, The A.V. Club and more. Zaleski wrote the liner notes for the 2016 deluxe edition of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” and contributed an essay to the 2020 Game Theory compilation “Across the Barrier of Sound: PostScript.” Her book on Duran Duran’s “Rio” for the 33 1/3 book series comes out in May 2021. She is currently working on the book “Why the B-52s Matter” for University of Texas Press.

Annie Zaleski is an award-winning journalist, editor and critic based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her profiles, interviews and criticism have appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, NPR Music, Guardian, Salon, Billboard, Stereogum, The A.V. Club and more. Zaleski wrote the liner notes for the 2016 deluxe edition of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” and contributed an essay to the 2020 Game Theory compilation “Across the Barrier of Sound: PostScript.” Her book on Duran Duran’s “Rio” for the 33 1/3 book series comes out in May 2021. She is currently working on the book “Why the B-52s Matter” for University of Texas Press.

Stories like this straight to your inbox
Exclusive video and the best music writing in the world, in your inbox every week. Subscribe today.
Our Cookie Policy
To help us bring the stories between the songs to life, we use cookies and similar technologies to personalize your experiences. For more information, please refer to our
Cookie Policy.