For the first time in 12 years, Brooklyn native Carole King returned to the stage of Radio City in her hometown for a one night only performance. From a first glance, the Living Room Tour (named for King’s new album of the same name) is obviously striving to offer a different sort of concert going experience.
The stage was set like an intimate living room. An ebony grand piano stood comfortably beside two couches, end tables, and large potted plants. While most performers would not be able to pull off any sort of intimacy in a large storied venue like New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, King rose to the challenge with her own special sort of warmth and charm which combined story-telling with pure musical magic.
At one point during the night, King apologized to her audience for using sheet music with printed lyrics. At 63 years of age, she explained that she still had all of her memory cells “but not all of them are holding hands anymore”. Apologies were not necessary! King, still a tiny little ball of energy almost buried beneath her curly hair, showed a great deal of the spunk and charisma that led her from the being a top songwriter (along with former husband Gerry Goffin) during the Brill Building era to a solo success during the singer/songwriter era of the 1960s.
To the delight of her sold-out audience, King took the time to touch on all aspects of her long and highly successful career. Starting out with some of her most recent hits, King launched into the song “Where You Lead I Will Follow”. It was, she explained, a song for mothers and daughters and she had recorded the song with her daughter, singer Louise Goffin. Younger members of the audience were more likely to recognize it as the theme song of the hit WB show The Gilmore Girls.
King followed with the sentimental tune “Now and Forever” which was prominently featured in the Penny Marshall-directed mega hit A League of Their Own. In one of the most charming moments of the night, King recounted how her old friend Penny Marshall (note – King does a great impersonation) saved the day by having an opening scene for the film especially written to feature the song when it was discovered that Madonna, one of the film’s stars, was guaranteed the coveted end credits space to air her own song.
Friendship continued to be a big theme of the night as Carole King welcomed two of her longtime friends Nashville singer/songwriter Gary Burr and guitarist/back-up singer Rudy Guess to join her during one of the evening’s biggest challenges. They were going to open up the mystery of the songwriting process to the audience by composing a new song on the spot. It was a risky move, but it was genuinely intriguing to see veterans attack their craft with such dedication and excitement decades into their career. After creating the first verse of song that probably could have real potential, King turned the show back toward her canon of hits.
With her former writing partner Gerry Goffin in the audience that night, King honored their roots by offering up a melody of some of their biggest hits – which were actually written for other artists. There was the Chiffons “One Fine Day”, The Shirelles “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the Herman’s Hermits’ hit “I’m Into Something Good” and Monkees classic “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. King also paused to share some fabulous tales of her early triumphs and trials at the Brill Building – and yes, the competition among songwriters was fierce.
After a short break, it was time for the mega hits – the kind of songs that define a generation and, there was no doubt that night that every one was recalling their younger days as Carole King returned to the stage and her piano for a powerful, emotion-filled take on “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel The Earth Move”. Having recently returned from USO Tour, King sent out “So Far Away” to the troops serving overseas.
The most stunning and touching moment though had to belong to the moment when the first few chords of “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” bounced off the walls. From that moment on, every person in the crowd (especially the ladies) sang their hearts out – almost to the point where King, herself was drowned out.
Evening winded down with the forever young/often-covered tune “You’ve Got a Friend”. Just as the audience thought they were going to leave the theatre swaying calmly, King returned to the stage with a surprise up her sleeve. Looking very much like an eager teenager, King dived right into The Locomotion. She and Goffin had written the hit song for Little Eva, but it was obvious that King considers the song almost completely her own. With seemingly endless energy, the sprightly singer bounced, hopped and locomotioned from one side of the stage to the other.
By the time she left the stage, Carole King has not only shared her music with a grateful audience, but also many amusing vignettes of a life lived to the fullest. Even a visit to Carole’s actual living room couldn’t be any better than a night like this!