The Road To Yesterday (Live 1974)
The Carpenters worked themselves non-stop. They were a hard-touring band on account of all the hits they had. That’s how it worked. They kept having hit singles, kept hitting the road. It sent Richard to the uppers and it was a big downer for Karen, part of what spiralled her into anorexia as both a state of mind and a physical state of hate toward her very being. They smiled on the record covers, to the point of inciting rumours of incest. But their troubles and competition came from the road. Richard did all the arranging and lead the band but Karen got all the applause for fronting the act, for that incredible voice and for her charm and grace at the microphone.
What a fascinating story it is.
And the best of their music still shines.
There was some crap too. Cheesy stuff. Schmaltzy. Sometimes the schmaltz was just right. Sometimes it was OTT.
It’s equal measures here on this bootlegged 1974 show (actually the audio from the Budokan tour that was available briefly as a DVD in the early 2000s I believe).
Hell of a show-band too. Ex-Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien had grown up to become a Ronnie Tutt-styled drummer; busy and all over the tunes but in just the right way. He was the live sub for Karen – she reluctantly gave up the stool, returning only for a cameo spot as part of the set. Her job was out front singing the songs the audience loved.
And here the band is on fire and Karen shows some real character(s) to her voice in the rock’n’roll covers, including a medley that takes in Runaway, Da Doo Ron Ron, Leader of the Pack and Johnny Angel (among others).
Those rock’n’roll covers – or “oldies” as the never-hip Carpenters called them – always sounded trite on their records but live they really do come alive. That’s partly due to the musical performances but a lot of it has to do with Karen’s vocals – she’s funny and quirky as she puts on a character for each performance.
Then she slips effortlessly back into herself for the band’s signature hits like the encore performances of We’ve Only Just Begun and For All We Know. Sublime. Both of them.
The opening medley is a triumph too. Normally a wrap of hits disappoints in favour of hearing them all but by 1974 the Carpenters had five years of hit singles, so Superstar, Rainy Days & Mondays and Goodbye To Love work super well together in a bundle. That line in Rainy Days, “What I’ve got, they used to call the blues…” it gets me every time. That was Karen singing of her condition, covering for it still.
The show-band style intro – with O’Brien firing the songs with extra fills – is very of the era. And very cool too. As cool as they ever were, I reckon. And let me tell you, as a person that has never known a fucking thing about what’s cool at all, the Carpenters really were cool. Trust me. I know you can’t. But that’s okay.
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