Royal Festival Hall, London – 22nd October 2012
I spent the evening at the Royal Festival Hall, watching what is currently my “Gig of the Year”. I've been a fan of Mary Chapin Carpenter for a long time, ever since Simon Nicol introduced me to her “Moon and St Christopher” on his first solo album.
|Mary Chapin Carpenter: remarkable technique|
I'm less knowledgable of Shawn Colvin, but I do have four of her albums. To see the pair of them, especially for the very reasonable price of £35, was something I've been looking forward to for a couple of months, especially as they have dispensed with their bands for this short tour, and are performing as a duo.
They've been friends for over two decades, they've played and sung on each others albums, they get together privately for a bit of a play and a sing from time to time, and late last year they had the idea of putting the “bit of a play and a sing” on stage, performing the songs they like to harmonise together, both their own and other people's.
Starting with a flawless, crystalline reading of Donavon's “Catch The Wind”, this was an evening that brought both gasps of recognition, cries of ecstasy and bursts of applause from sections of the audience as the intros to songs were played. The “other people” the duo favoured included The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Finn and Steve Earl.
|Shawn Colvin: sublime|
It was their own songs that most had come to hear, though, and I doubt anyone left the RFH disappointed. “One Cool Remove”, with MCC on backing vocals.... “This Shirt” with SC supplying a counterpoint that will now be forever missing when I play the original... there were many such differing, sometimes stripped-back interpretations.
We all knew that they had fine voices, and voices that worked together well. What some may not have realised is what fine guitar-players they are, too. On a spare stage containing two chairs and five acoustic guitars, I saw a demonstration of technique that was remarkable, from MCC's mastery of clawhammer picking to SC's sometimes sublime use of lower-string plucking to accentuate the rhythm as her fingers danced around the dusty end of the frets. MCC played mostly new songs, concentrating mainly on the latest album, “Ashes And Roses”, and spoke both movingly and humorously about her recent divorce. SC revisited earlier points from her back catalogue and chatted about the elements that drive her songwriting. As they left the stage, after ninety minutes of pure magic, many in the audience rose to give them an ovation, and it was clear that they would not be satisfied without more.
The “more” was supplied by a four-song encore, and as the duo put their guitars down for the final time, they bowed - and rose to see their entire audience standing and clapping.
I have waited many years to see Mary Chapin Carpenter live. My companions had waited many years to see Shawn Colvin live. To see them without their bands, not just as performers but as the songwriters they are, with no excitable lighting, no tearing lead guitar, thunder of drums, underpinning bass, lovely mandolin solos or other flummery — just two women, two guitars and many songs of extraordinary emotional maturity... well, that's a better deal than we could ever have hoped for.