For songwriters, familiarity can breed distance. At Wolf Trap on Saturday, Carole King trotted out some of the greatest pop tunes ever conceived. King, at 63, now seems closer to her fans than she does to all those glorious songs she wrote decades ago.
There wasn't a whole lot new about the show. King has been calling her road ventures "The Living Room Tour" for some time now, and last week she released a live album under that name. The stage set (couches and plants) and the musical set remained virtually unchanged from her 2004 appearance at the Vienna amphitheater. King smiled as the crowd sang such justifiable ubiquities as "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "I Feel the Earth Move," "Up on the Roof," "Chains," and "It's Too Late."
One wonderful alteration in this year's performance was that the version of King's touched-by-God work from 1960, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?," was given a slower and longer run-through. But, once again, it was thrown into a medley. Such is the burden of having such a gem-laden career.
For younger fans, a highlight was King's version of "Where You Lead, I Will Follow," a song she reworked to be the theme for "Gilmore Girls," a feel-good television drama centered around a mother-daughter relationship. King again tried to give the audience a quickie window into her creative world. While sitting at a grand piano, she coaxed band mates Gary Burr and Rudy Guess to give her lyrical and musical ideas, which the three then used to work up an allegedly spontaneous song. This effort culminated in "Lonely Looks Like Me," a tune that had more sap than the Vermont countryside.
But the tutoring session had its profound moments: King, at Burr's urging, offered a brief explanation of the 1967 birth of "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." King said producer Jerry Wexler came to her and then-husband/songwriting partner Gerry Goffin and ordered a hit for a young artist that Wexler had just brought to Atlantic Records, Aretha Franklin. Goffin came up with the lyrics as "I was just playing some gospel chords, like this," King said, as she banged out the opening bars of a song that still leaves listeners of a certain age weak. Everybody in the world but King knows it couldn't have been that simple.
-- Dave McKenna