When I was told that I’d be watching the great James Taylor for his return to Manila last April 8, I genuinely didn’t know what to expect.

In all honesty, I barely knew anything about him, apart from the fact that he’s the acclaimed musician behind “You’ve Got A Friend”. Admittedly, as someone who primarily consumes a lot of heavy metal and K-pop, simply put, Taylor’s music was not exactly one of my go-to’s. I don’t know if it’s also because I’m a Gen Z, but his music never really found its way into my playlists or even recommendations.

However, joke’s on me for not getting into him earlier as I admittedly have a soft spot for the calm, folk rock sound that the rest of Taylor’s extensive discography is built upon – a fact I would eventually have the joy of discovering whilst quickly skimming through his discography days prior to the concert. And so, with barely any idea what to expect, I went to the show with an open mind to see what this legend is really made of.

Photographed by Mayks Go

Due to my inexperience with Taylor and his music, I thought way too many times prior to the concert that maybe I was unqualified to actually cover this major show – thinking to myself that maybe the die-hard fans of the Grammy Award-winning musical icon would think I’m probably someone not fit nor personally well-versed enough to give Taylor, as the revered musician he undoubtedly is, the level of feedback he deserves for an artist of his reputation.

But as I witnessed the SM Mall of Asia Arena bask in the presence of Taylor last Monday (April 8), armed with only my crammed amount of stock knowledge and an extensive playlist of his hit songs I’d been constantly listening to the past few days, by the end of the night, I can genuinely say that, while not exactly “die-hard” like many of those in attendance just yet, I am now also a fan.

The concert itself was something of an unusual spectacle to witness as a much younger yet long-time purveyor of live shows, both small and major. From the get-go, it differed from a lot of the ones I was somewhat used to attending already. For one, the atmosphere was clearly a lot more laidback compared to the frenzied, high-energy rush I would often experience all around me in other arena shows for a lot of my generational contemporaries’ favorite artists. Nevertheless, I personally found it interesting to see this stark contrast with the other concerts I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing inside the MOA Arena – a clear sign from the start that this was undoubtedly going to be a whole new different experience.

The night kicked off on the dot with a joint special stage from Ice Seguerra and Noel Cabangon. In all my years consuming Filipino music, it was the first time I’d ever had the pleasure of witnessing the two OPM icons perform, let alone see them in person. Alongside covers of “Come Together” by The Beatles, Bread’s “Make It With You”, and more, the string of Pinoy classics they dished out – Cabangon’s “Kanlungan“, Seguerra’s “Pagdating Ng Panahon ” and, their set closer, a mash-up of Buklod’s “Tatsulok“ and Sampaguita’s “Nosi Balasi” – brought me back to a time in my late childhood years in the 2000’s when I was only just beginning to discover the endless joys of our local music.

It felt right, dare I say, perfect, that these two legends were opening up the night and warming up the stage for another legend bringing along his own nostalgic hits. “Excited na ba kayong lahat? Kami rin!, ” exclaimed Seguerra.

Photographed by Mayks Go

In another method I personally haven’t witnessed before of conducting a concert, Taylor’s 18-song set that night began with the acclaimed singer-songwriter simply waltzing right in onto the stage, waving to the cheering crowd to recognize them. It reminded me of those classical music showcases where pianists going solo on their instrument would come in, bow, sit down, adjust their music sheets, and start playing all within a matter of seconds.

No grandiose opening nor extravagant unnecessary bells and whistles. It was a short and simple entrance for the legendary singer but it was enough to get the entirety of the arena cheering as he immediately went into his hit songs such as “Something in the Way She Moves”, “That’s Why I’m Here”, and “Anywhere Like Heaven” – the beginning to a show whose setlist was crafted to showcase the best of the best from Taylor’s 60-year-or-so musical career.

Photographed by Mayks Go

Throughout most of the songs he performed that night, Taylor, in between multiple laughter-inducing quips and side comments, would often share personal anecdotes and insights into each song after he concludes performing them. From getting to play “Something in the Way She Moves” for Paul McCartney and George Harrison back in the 60’s to recording “Long Ago and Far Away” with Joni Mitchell lending her signature voice as backing vocals, the night was richly teeming with so much music history courtesy of Taylor. It was something that I definitely enjoyed getting to learn more about as it not only helped me get to know to him a bit better as an artist but also simply because, generations aside, legendary musical crossovers and collaborations are something I absolutely appreciate.

Photographed by Mayks Go

Speaking of legendary musical crossovers, I’ve got to give huge credit to Taylor’s “all-star band” as well for elevating the show to higher proportions. “All-star” is definitely the right term for this outfit of musical virtuosos who backed up the legendary singer all throughout the night, not just in their individual names but, more so, in their flawless display of mastery over their respective musical specializations – something that Taylor couldn’t help but rave on about multiple times throughout the night as he highlighted each and every single one of them whilst sharing bits and pieces of backstory on these equally talented musicians.

I mean I would too if I was the one performing that night alongside those very same skilled veterans such as singers Dorian Holley, Kate Markowitz, and Taylor’s better half Kim Taylor, drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Jimmy Johnson, and more, given that there was never a dull moment thanks to them in helping round out the concert to completion.

Photographed by Mayks Go

The shared musical vigor bouncing back-and-forth between the band and Taylor, alongside the constant participation of the crowd through fervent cheering, synchronized clapping, and their phone flashlights lighting up for a couple of tracks, clearly had the veteran performer going as he energetically jumped up and down and did cute jigs with his guitar, like the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer that he is, in songs such as “Country Road”, “Up On The Roof”, and “Mexico”.

“Man, I wanna be like that when I’m his age,” I remember chuckling under my breath as he did it once again during their performance of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, the track that had almost everyone — including myself — during the latter portion of the concert standing up, clapping, and dancing along.

Photographed by Mayks Go

By the time the whole arena was calling for a massive encore at the end, I was surprisingly moved to join in with them. Throughout those two hours or so, the show had provided me some form of comfort and enjoyment for a bit after a long day of once again facing the perpetual hustle and bustle of the city. And so, alongside the thousands in the venue who have waited for Taylor’s return to the country after nearly 3 decades or so, I didn’t want this night to end just yet.

Photographed by Mayks Go

Thankfully Taylor and his band of all-stars happily obliged, performing more of his hits, including the aforementioned “You’ve Got A Friend”. “We couldn’t leave without performing this for you all,” he said, introducing the famed hit.

He then performed “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” before officially ending the show with “You Can Close Your Eyes”. Taylor closed the night of nostalgia by proclaiming to the Manila crowd, “You’re our best audience! Our very best audience,” before side remarking, “Like, I don’t say that every night,” which earned him one last unified laughter from the MOA Arena crowd.

Photographed by Mayks Go

As Taylor happily stayed behind on-stage to greet a couple of fans and autograph their albums after the concert, I couldn’t help but think back on a couple of personal experiences I got to hear from a bunch of his said fans I got to converse with prior to the start of the show.

For one, couple Tom and Theresa, who flew in from Leyte just for the concert, shared of their mutual love for Taylor thanks to Tom. Tom, who last saw Taylor in 1985 in Los Angeles, said, “I’ve always liked his music. It’s timeless… just timeless music,” adding that they both loved Taylor for his writing style and the way he sings. “He’s just a wonderful artist you know… I don’t think he’s put out a bad song.”

Siblings Sean, Joey, and Meg, who were there with Sean’s wife, Shane, were among some of the much younger attendees in the crowd. The three siblings stated that what makes Taylor’s music special for them is the fact that it brings back memories of their childhood when their dad occasionally regularly played them out loud for the family.

“That’s how we got into James Taylor ’cause [dad] listened to him every time we were in the car, when we’re just chilling at home so, it’s like part of our childhood basically,” shared Sean. Meg added, “His songs are very calming and since we listened to them as a family, it just stuck. His songs, it doesn’t matter what year, or age, or even how many years from now. It’s still songs we can enjoy and relate to.”

Photographed by Mayks Go

When I talked to them before the show began, I only thought to myself how interesting it is to personally hear testaments of how the influence of James Taylor’s music extends to different generations, even to that of my own. But now, as I left the halls of the MOA Arena alongside countless of those whom his music and artistry have impacted over the years, I now understand, to a certain degree, the excitement and anticipation they felt beforehand, thinking to myself, “Not gonna lie. An evening well spent.”

Check out the setlist of An Evening With James Taylor and His All-Star Band below:

  • “Something in the Way She Moves”
  • “That’s Why I’m Here”
  • “Anywhere Like Heaven”
  • “Never Die Young”
  • “Country Road”
  • “Sweet Baby James”
  • “Handy Man”
  • “Long Ago and Far Away”
  • “Mexico”
  • “Carolina in My Mind”
  • “Steamroller”
  • “Fire and Rain”
  • “Up On The Roof”
  • “Shower the People”
  • “Your Smiling Face”
  • “You’ve Got A Friend”
  • “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”
  • “You Can Close Your Eyes”