Monday, June 17, 2013

Rainy Days and Mondays: The Carpenters Story @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Saturday 15th June 2013

Guilty secret time. I love The Carpenters. Then again maybe it’s not such a guilty secret anymore. Didn’t they get a bit trendy a few years ago? Who cares, that combination of Karen Carpenter’s contralto voice (this is basically pretty deep for a lady) and brother Richard’s lush musical arrangements was and is one of pop’s golden moments. Sadly the delightful Ms Carpenter was haunted by anorexia for much of her short life and passed away back in 1983 aged just 32 so - short of cracking out the ouija board - this show’s as close to hearing her live as you’re going to get.  Tribute shows can be painfully naff and given The Carpenters less than cool image to begin with the whole night could have easily descended into a beige nightmare of sentimentality and MOR mush. Whilst this evening skirted close to this once or twice (I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole clapping and singing along thing) the five piece band (four chaps and ‘Karen’) managed to recreate that distinctive sound remarkably well. If you’re a big Carpenters fan it takes a while to adjust your head though as, for obvious reasons, ClaireFurley looks nothing like Karen Carpenter. Of course this is a very good thing. For much of her career Karen frankly looked dangerously ill (as we now know she was), a fragile creature with a voice way out of proportion to the feeble frame that spawned it. So when that voice – and at times it’s spookily accurate – comes out of the body of someone else it’s all a little...well...unsettling. Shut your eyes for a moment though and readjust and as the night progresses you get used it. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be much of an issue if you hadn’t spent hours watching Carpenters videos. Whoops...there goes another guilty secret.

As you’d expect the setlist is a trawl through many of The Carpenters’ biggest hits, punctuated by little bits of history from jovial musical director and pianist Phil Aldridge, together with a few lesser known tracks including the painfully poignant Now, the last song Karen ever recorded. Listened to all in one evening it’s a neat reminder of just how varied their music actually was, from the jaunty pop of Top Of The World through to the Cajun influenced Jambalaya (On The Bayou), the jazzy This Masquerade and on to the weird sci-fi shout out of Calling Occupants. Richard and Karen’s willingness to embrace all sorts of genres, albeit with that distinctive Carpenters sheen very clearly audible, is perhaps sadly overlooked these days.

With a band made up of musicians who have, at various times, played with Amy Winehouse, Alfie Boe, Chris De Burgh and Westlife (come on now, everyone has to earn a living) the playing is pretty top notch. The dude who played the sax, clarinet, flute, tambourine (often seemingly all at the same time) was particularly impressive. Naturally Claire’s the star of the show though and her ability to make the delivery of these songs sound easy (I’m no singer but I can recognise just how tricky this is) is pretty incredible. Just once or twice in the whole evening there was a slight breathing issue (and I’m being ultra picky here) which kind of underlines this fact. Close To You however was the most perfect rendition you’re ever going to hear and it’s worth the price of a ticket alone. Whilst The Carpenters music is perhaps the ultimate in easy listening performing it this well is anything but. For a couple of hours it really was Yesterday Once More...

PS: For some reason I can’t find any clips of the show online, so I’ve posted the original Close To You up here. Trust me it’s pretty much identical to what you’ll hear. 

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