A couple of years ago, I had the great privilege of seeing two music legends share the stage when Carole King toured Australia with James Taylor. I truly doubt that such an opportunity will ever come my way again but last night I did have the chance to see one of those legends for a second time when Carole King played at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. And it is always a thrill to be in the presence of someone you have held in such reverence for more than half your life.
Seated at the piano, King opened her Sydney show with, as you would probably expect, a track from her iconic ‘Tapestry’ album, ‘Home Again’, followed by ‘Up on the Roof’ one of her earlier compositions, which was a hit for The Drifters in the early 60s. Her set featured a big chunk of the award-winning Tapestry album, nine tracks in all. My only disappointment was that two of my favourites, the upbeat ‘Smackwater Jack’ and the hauntingly beautiful title track, were missing from the set. I have yet to see Carole King play ‘Tapestry’ live. I am guessing that it would be something of a rarity.
King was backed by a small but tight band of well-credentialed musicians and two backing singers, one of which blew the audience away with her vocal range and ability. The set design was minimalist with only a screen at the back, with a changing visual display of portraits and scenery. The singer sat at her piano for most of the performance, taking to her feet and standing centre stage for only a handful of songs, allowing the section of the audience seated behind her a chance to actually see her face, rather than stare continuously at her back.
Carole took the opportunity during her show to mention her autobiography, ‘A Natural Woman: A Memoir’, released last year. The book is something of a tapestry of King’s life and career, in her own words. And quite a tapestry it is too. At 71, Carole King’s catalogue of music is impressive to say the least. She is one of the most prolific songwriters of all time, with in excess of 400 of her own compositions having been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, making her the most successful female songwriter in the history of contemporary music. And it seemed somewhat appropriate that the singer was performing so many of her classic love songs for us on Valentine’s Day and, for the most part, the mood was definitely mellow and low key, with a few exceptions such as ‘Jazzman’ and, of course her big hit ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ which, predictably, was the closer for her set. But the audience wasn’t quite ready to let her go that easily, demanding more of the classics that made Carole King a household name. And of course, she didn’t disappoint, returning for three more songs from the much-loved Tapestry album. Beginning her encore with the gentle ‘So Far Away’, she then poured her heart and soul into ‘(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman’ in a performance that seemed to stir the emotions of everyone in the room. But it was the finale, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ that the fans were truly waiting for and King delivered the goods, with a superb rendition, aided by the audience who sang along loudly to every word. It was at this, the final part of the show, that you could clearly see the connection between the audience and the singer and her songs.
There was talk last year that King is thinking of retiring very soon from the music business; that she will no longer be churning out the tunes that have been a part of our lives for over fifty years now. I really hope that isn’t true. It would be a sad day for music fans, that’s for sure. Even at 71, Carole King is still… the Queen.
by Sharyn Hamey
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You can still catch Carole King at the following venues:
HUNTER VALLEY - HOPE ESTATE WINERY SATURDAY FEB 16
MELBOURNE - THE PLENARY - MONDAY FEB 18
ADELAIDE - FESTIVAL THEATRE - WEDNESDAY FEB 20