There’s something incredibly earnest about Mary Chapin Carpenter’s live performances and as she takes centre stage surrounded by a sea of instrumentalists, it’s impossible not to notice the shake of her hands. The false start to the first song suggests that tonight will be filled with intricate melodies but remain true to the heart of Carpenter’s music. Sadly, this does not seem to translate and for the first half of the show I find myself drifting off, more interested in the musicianship of the orchestra than in the songs themselves.
As two separate entities there’s little to fault. The vocals are as strong as ever, and the orchestra delivers both triumphant and mournful sounds in equal measure. However the two fail to marry together and nearly every song sees the orchestra drown out the vocals as it rises into an inevitable crescendo finish. Nevertheless there are a few highlights, particularly the songs which weren’t originally recorded with an orchestra. Stones In The Road sounds sublime and brings a new element to a much loved classic Carpenter track, but sadly these moments are sparse.
The missing guitar is another complaint for me and I spend the majority of the night longing for Carpenter to stop the band and strip everything back, if only for a single song. At other times I drift off, considering which songs might have been more successful live with a larger backing. Why Walk When You Can Fly springs to mind as a song that would have benefitted greatly from bouncing strings and the mellow sounds of the woodwind section, but sadly this doesn’t come to light. It’s this which is most problematic, the fact that no matter how great the orchestra or Carpenter’s normal offerings, tonight fails to hold my focus.
Though Mrs Hemingway brings with it a more sympathetic backing from the orchestra, the plucked strings stopping their sound from overpowering the vocal, tonights ambition fails to materialise. Come On Come On does at least delight some of the crowd, but much of the rest seems to fall completely flat. Though the encore of The Hard Way is without a doubt the best song of the evening and see’s Carpenter also come to life, what promised on paper to be a special night is likely to drift out of memory without leaving much of a mark.