Carole King, Orpheum Theater, July 7, 2005

Categories: Music
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Like several million other people around my age (I'm 34), I grew up with Carole King's Tapestry album because my parents had it and played it often. As with Joni Mitchell's albums from the early '70s, I associate Tapestry very closely with my mother, and have probably never heard it without either being in her presence or thinking of her. I have another strong association with the album. One night in the summer of 1988, I was listening to KFAI radio under headphones while washing the dishes. The DJ, Nina Hale, was playing a variety of records--I can't remember which records precisely expect that they was mostly hip or at least underexposed tunes appropriate for KFAI, but she also played a song from Tapestry, which I thought was especially cool and un-self-conscious since most KFAI DJs at the time were overcautious about airing hugely popular songs that might be heard on commercial radio, especially easy listening radio. Anyway, one thing led to another and six years later I fell in love with Nina and a year after that we got married. So I'm very sentimental about Carole King. But not, you know, irrational about her. I mean, I don't think she's written anything of real note in over 30 years, and none of the post-Tapestry tunes she played at last night's show at the Orpheum Theater, the first U.S. stop on her "Living Room" tour, changed my mind about that. Just about everything else, though, was really great.

King's voice was in pretty good shape--a bit rough around the edges but in a good way. When singing quietly, her phrasing was as full of nuance and soul as ever. In belt-it-out mode, she'd miss some notes and hit some others and produce some harsh sounds but it was all very genuine and devil-may-care. Really, she's one of the all-time best white R&B singers, comparable to Van Morrison in how naturally and deeply she's absorbed and personalized her influences. She's also a kind of cabaret singer-performer, very showbiz and corny at times ("This is what 63 looks like!"), but charmingly so. (She did look great.) When she went back to her early Goffin-King collaborations, especially "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and "Up On the Roof," I felt pretty sure that I was listening to the best pop songs ever written. A world of rather deep emotion in a package designed for teenage consumption. Lennon and McCartney once said that they wanted to be the British Goffin and King, which is the ultimate endorsement. I'm mad for Lieber-Stoller, Goffin-King, Mann-Weill, and all that Brill Building stuff. (King and Goffin, by the way, didn't actually work in the Brill Building; they were in another building across the street). The chord progressions found in some of the best Goffin-King tunes were this great amalgam of pop and R&B/gospel changes, much simpler than most Broadway and Tin Pan Alley changes but fancier than most R&B changes, and always very elegant, much like King's best melodies and Goffin's best lyrics.

King played full versions of some of that early material and portions of other tunes. Not surprisingly, she didn't play "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss"), or "Happy Being Fat." Nor, to my chagrin, did she play "Goin' Back" or "No Easy Way Down" from her underrated first solo album, Writer. She was backed by two sideman, one of whom, Gary Burr, is a songwriter as well. He played two of his songs, one of which was terrible, the other of which was "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me," the excellent Juice Newton hit. For that number, King stood up and played guitar, saying that she was fulfilling her dream of being in the Eagles without actually "having to interact with the Eagles." Snap! As a ballad singer, Burr was an irritating emotoer and his presence on "You've Got a Friend" was a bummer.

The crowd did some singing along and out-of-time clapping, which always drives me nuts, but the audience-participation stuff was only a major nuisance here and there.


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