The merchandise stall outside may have been selling some incredibly naff clothing (Mary Chapin Carpenter denim shirt anyone?), but a live concert by Mary Chapin Carpenter is infinitely more appealing. Not only does she draw a diverse crowd made up of fifty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and kids, but her show is an all encompassing two and a half hours of entertainment. Especially if, as tonight, Carpenter’s long time friend and solo artist Shawn Colvin is special guest.
Even before her set, it’s clear that Carpenter lacks a starch-stiff stage presence that so often leaves performers stale and lacking in humanity. After joining Colvin’s opening slot for a superb rendition of Crowded House favourite “Four Seasons in One Day”, the duo fall about laughing telling jokes and describing at length a trip on the Beatles tour in Liverpool the previous day. Later on when the pair team up again for an encore, they again wander off track, to discuss such bizarre topics as The Simpsons before launching into an impromptu Backstreet Boys sing-song.
For a Grammy winner and artist with a plethora of gold and platinum albums Mary Chapin Carpenter (and Colvin for that matter) is as down to earth as she is successful, and her complete lack of pretension provides an entirely appropriate warm and comfortable setting for her latest tour.
New album Time* Sex* Love* is her seventh studio record, but rather than being a jaded half hearted attempt, the songs seem to have given Carpenter a new lease of life, and when she gets down to the serious business of road-testing the new material, she proves herself again as one of the most talented and versatile female singer-songwriters around.
With a sound somewhere between the poles of rock, folk and country, Carpenter has built a surprisingly large following in the UK and the opening trio of new songs are greeted warmly. Throughout the show, the new album is heavily represented, with Carpenter glad of the opportunity to perform a large number of new songs. And new material such as the wistful “Swept Away”, the tub-thumping “The Long Way Home” and “Whenever You’re Ready” look set to join the ranks of the songs that form the basis of her setlist.
The new songs display the same melodic appeal and lyric sharpness that fans have come to expect, yet seem even more emotive than ever. Whilst Carpenter and her tight band shine on effervescent tunes such as “Passionate Kisses”, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, and “Slave to the Beauty”, her songs are perhaps most powerful when accompanied solely by her acoustic guitar and the captivating piano of Jon Carroll, as on “Stones in the Road” and the tender new song, “The Dreaming Road”.
She ended the show in upbeat mode with the appropriate “Quittin’ Time”, and made sure that even those sporting their new embroidered denim shirts had plenty to smile about. And that is some achievement.