As fine as the music is, Carole King's efforts to engage her audience are the real reason this modest delight works as well as it does.
According to Carole King, her Living Room Tour had its genesis in actual living rooms, where she would play and sing for small audiences while campaigning and fundraising. "People seemed to enjoy that these concerts were spontaneous, simple and intimate," she says. "So did I. It wasn't only the size of the room. It was the feeling of connection. So I thought about bringing that feeling on tour."
Geez, she wasn't kidding. The entire stage set-up consists of a piano and some basic living-room furniture, plus a few microphones. It hardly looks like the sort of thing that would connect with a decent-sized audience in a sizable venue, despite all the good intentions in the world, but I'm happy to say it works like a charm.
The primary reason for the success of the show captured on Welcome to My Living Room isn't the music, fine as it is, but Carole King's efforts to engage her audience. She talks to the crowd, taking the template of programs like VH1's Storytellers as a starting point, and never drifts off-course. Even if what King has to say isn't always illuminating, it's never dull, and she seems genuinely happy to be there, with that audience, on that night. The simple act of facing the crowd while talking to them -- which requires craning her neck a bit due to her piano being situated perpendicular to the audience -- is worth noting. Presumably, that's what she would do in a real living room, making eye contact with individuals.
Even the thematic title track has an off-the-cuff feel, capturing the intended mood and featuring silly rhymes and lines like, "I'm 63 / And there's so many songs by me." It's true, though. How is she going to condense over 40 years of songwriting into a two-hour show?
Somehow, she pulls it off. Most of her major solo hits are here, with nine songs from the ubiquitous Tapestry ("I Feel the Earth Move", "It's Too Late", "So Far Away", "You've Got a Friend", etc.) forming the bulk of the set-list, and deservedly so. In addition, we get other notable hits like "Been to Canaan" and "Song of Long Ago", plus a couple showcase numbers for guitarist Gary Burr, who just so happens to be the author of the Ricky Martin/Christina Aguilera monster "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely" and Juice Newton's "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me". Both of these numbers translate well to this intimate setting, with the latter being one of the most energetic performances of the show.
Fans of Brill-Building pop are in for a good time, too, as a baker's dozen of King's earliest songwriting triumphs are aired. Some of them, including "Up On the Roof", "Chains" and "Locomotion", get the full-length treatment, while a bunch of others are crammed into a mid-set medley. If that sounds a little disappointing, rest assured the medley is fantastic, from King's imitation of Gene Pitney singing "Every Breath I Take" to the big finale of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Even the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday" pops up toward the end of the set, in a rare nod to King's work for performers outside of the girl-group milieu. It's a treat to hear a songwriter's own versions of songs she wrote for other people, and in King's case it'll probably leave you hungry for more.
Even if it doesn't pack a whole lot of surprises, Welcome to My Living Room is a modest delight. Whether you're a Carole King devotee or just someone interested in taking in a couple hours of well-crafted music - some of which ranks among the greatest of the rock 'n' roll era - you ought to take the title of the film to heart, and accept her invitation.
Extras include interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but the real treat is "Songwriting 101", in which King and company compose and perform new songs onstage. What we get are mere clips, but they're enough to get the idea of how the process worked. Some of the tunes are pretty ridiculous, but the audience seems to take much away from the demonstration of the craft. It would've been nice to see an entire song take shape, but the clips are better bonus fare than you typically get from concert DVDs.