You can't go home again
The best testament to the talent of Richard and Karen Carpenter was evident by what did not happen at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium last night during the KSO Pops presentation of "Yesterday Once More: A Tribute to the Music of The Carpenters."
There was no magic moment.
I didn't go to the concert expecting The Carpenters to appear out of the mists of time and channel themselves through the talent of the KSO Pops and vocalists Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Joanna Jahn and John Trones.
But I did expect it to be in the ballpark.
You can't blame it on the KSO Pops. The orchestra was simply superb.
You can't blame it on the sound snafus that marred much of the performance. These things happen. Ask anyone who has ever stepped on a stage.
But you can blame it on curious arrangements and puzzling song choices selected for each performer.
Some of the fault must lie with pianist Jim Brickman, who produced and arranged this production. Blame the rest on the fact that Richard and Karen's supernova shines so brightly that maybe this kind of tribute is a bad idea.
The first question, asked aloud by me and others: Where were the horns?
Oh, they were up there on the stage. The musicians were doing fine. The problem is the arranger, apparently Brickman, did not give them much to do.
If you've ever listened to a Carpenters record you'll know what I mean. Horns were missing during key moments of, for example, "Love is Surrender" and Leon Russell's "Superstar." Nobody sings like Karen Carpenter. We know that. But why in the bloody hell would anybody mess with Richard's arrangements?
The second question, asked aloud by me: Why wasn't the piano prominent in the mix? That, too, is a Carpenters trademark. Did it have to do with the sound snafus? Or was this, too, Brickman's mistake? I know the pianist was front-and-center, doing the job. I saw that with my own two eyes.
The third question, perhaps a personal pet peeve, is why were certain songs given to the wrong performer?
Pay attention to this: Bentz, Jahn and Trones deserve medals for keeping alive the cliche "The show must go on."
They didn't flinch due to the sound snafus or the fact that their microphones either didn't work or weren't mixed properly for much of the first act.
But, why, for example, was Trones picked to sing "(They Long To Be) Close to You"? It's a song meant to be interpreted by a woman singer and his version didn't work. His vocals fit much more comfortably into "I Just Fall in Love Again," but, again, that's a woman singer's song. Anne Murray and Ava Barber both did it better.
Why did Bentz begin "Please Mr. Postman" so bizarrely? Making it randy? Really? A Carpenters song?
Is this all Brickman's fault?
Whoever told conductor James Fellenbaum not to play the overture or entr'acte to make up for the show's sound-plagued time delay also made a mistake. We came to hear the KSO. No one was in that big a hurry.
"What would that have taken?" a woman next to me asked. "Ten more minutes?"
(Speaking of that, I didn't pay those kind of ticket prices to hear the foursome sitting behind Jenn and me talk throughout most of the concert. Show respect or stay home.)
The grand finale was an uninspired version of "Sing." Not much heart; no children's choir. After the lights went up, several of us just sat there.
"Is that it?" somebody asked.
If you've ever chuckled at The Carpenters you're showing your musical ignorance. Karen's singing was sublime; Richard's arrangements were exquisite.
Trying to re-create The Carpenters, even in tribute, without, well, The Carpenters, just isn't going to work. It's impossible.
As the couple beside me headed for the exits, the woman turned and said, "This just makes you want to go home and turn up all of The Carpenters' vinyl records."
She was right. No magic moment. The closest classic was "Top of the World." Jahn is a fantastic vocalist and came as close to hitting Karen's low register and carefully-timed phrasing as we're going to get.
Don't blame the KSO. Don't blame the featured performers. And, please, don't blame the sound snafus.
But I do have a few questions for Jim Brickman.
And I guess, unlike my satisfying return this weekend to "Dark Shadows," when it comes redoing The Carpenters without The Carpenters, you can't go home again.