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Unassuming James Taylor fills Fenway with his hits

While James Taylor started off his Fenway Park concert on a subdued note, the songs expanded soon enough.Ben Stas for The Boston Globe

James Taylor isn't exactly the first person anyone would think of when pressed to name candidates for a stadium concert. Songs like "You've Got A Friend," "Carolina In My Mind," and "Sweet Baby James" don't exactly punch their way to the far corners of a major-league ballpark.

Taylor himself is so unassuming that he violated concert protocol right away by being the first person on the Fenway Park stage last night, ahead of his band, and he opened with the gentle, fingerpicked one-two punch of "Wandering" and "Secret O' Life."

But hits have a way of filling a stadium, no matter what form they take, and while Taylor started off on a rather subdued foot — as with the laid-back clavinet funk of "Me And My Guitar," which resettled itself every time it threatened to boil over — the songs expanded soon enough.


The sold-out audience felt it, too; the electric guitar of "Country Road" stung a touch more and Steve Gadd's drums pushed the heartbeat a little harder, and the crowd was suddenly responding with enthusiasm, rather than polite affection.

It wasn't just upbeat crowdpleasers like "Your Smiling Face," "Mexico," and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," either. "Carolina In My Mind" took the opposite approach by shrinking the ballpark down to folk-club size, then gradually building it back up, while Gadd kept "Fire And Rain" breathtakingly spacious.

Taylor did deliberately play to the venue once, with his new album's "Angels Of Fenway," a paean to the history leading up to the Red Sox's championship 2004 season, complete with a slideshow of the moments in question.

But mostly, James Taylor was James Taylor, to James Taylor's benefit. "This is not a bad place to play music, it turns out," he said toward the end. Any kind of music, it turns out.


With a 75-minute set, former Cantabrigian Bonnie Raitt was less an opener than a sub-headliner.

She and her band had the easy, sympathetic rapport of age-old friends who can still make sparks fly, switching between the supple reggae of "Right Down The Line," the clomping midtempo blues of "I Believe I'm In Love," and the feather touch of the torchy "I Can't Make You Love Me" with ease.

Raitt and her slide coaxed some fine sounds out of her electric guitar on "No Gettin' Over You," and her warm rasp made "Angel From Montgomery" into a soft exhale.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.