Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra
Sage Gateshead 29th September 2014
As a fan of Mary Chapin Carpenter; since COME ON, COME ON in the mid 1990’s; when her songs were fresh and never less than interesting; I’ve bought all of her albums including the last three which have been a lot more downbeat than those earlier recordings and have been a lot harder to love and very few songs have born out repeated plays.
I take no pride in not liking or understanding Classical music; but when you witness musicians as wonderful as the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra perform something like the (Suite From) To Kill a Mockingbird ‘in the flesh’ it is genuinely breathtaking and impressive (although a catchier tune may have been a better choice with hindsight).
As the applause for the orchestra filled the Hall Mary Chapin Carpenter and three of he regular band mates made their appearance from stage left; which brought longer and even louder applause from her loyal fans.
Wearing a beautiful black dress Mary opened her part of the concert with a delightfully melancholic version of Between Here and Gone which received generous applause from the fans who had filled the venue.
I was still letting the beauty of the event wash over me as Mary performed The Dreaming Road, from TIME*SEX*LOVE and the swooping strings and understated brass instrumentation were just perfect; leaving me a little misty eyed.
Sadly;most of the other songs came and went without hardly registering; even I Am a Town sounded virtually the same as everything that preceded it, carrying on the downbeat melancholic theme that had pervaded from the beginning of the evening. Mary’s interactions between songs were limited with only a handful actually being introduced by name and by the time I recognised Come On, Come On I was becoming increasingly jaded with the ‘sameness’ of every song and arrangement; with my notes being more about the people around me than the music itself. One note is well worth mentioning was that for the first time in a lot of years not a single camera-phone was raised all night; which made a lovely change.
Another thing was that from my seat the Conductor on his pedestal managed to obscure my view of the singer; which begs questions about the stage set up.
When the orchestra performed the opening bars to Stones In The Road it received warm applause of recognition and following the first up-tempo song of the evening (over an hour had gone by) the applause at the end was almost deafening; which was noticeable in itself as after previous songs the applause was generous without ever being enthusiastic.
In summation the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra were amazing; as you’d expect, but the selection of songs (pretty much the whole album) meant they never got out of second gear and at times the singers voice wasn’t quite strong enough to match them and very rarely did she manage to combine everything at hand to produce something memorable.
Afterwards, I met some friends in the foyer and while chatting they used a phrase that I overheard twice more on the way to my car; “The concert lacked any oomph!” Which was as good a way to describe the concert as I can express.