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Neil Eckersley & Paul Spicer for Speculation Entertainment present

Lynda Carter: At Last

 

Music Director/Drummer – Paul Liem


Piano – Tom Deering


Keys 2 – Curtis Stansfield


Guitar – Frank Dawkins


Saxophone – Lou Marini


Backing Vocalists: Tori Allen-Martin, Julie Atherton, Ashleigh Gray, Vicki Hampton


Garrick Theatre


Sept. 17 – 18 2010

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

At long last, Lynda Carter returns to London for her second solo concert, having formerly sold out the London Palladium in 1979, at the height of her Wonder Woman fame. A former Miss Arizona turned Miss USA (1972), at 59, Carter, is still one of the long-standing beauties of the entertainment firmament.


One of the first things I noticed about Carter was her bubbly personality. As such, I disagreed strongly with the dour woman who stopped us as we were heading down William IV Street post concert who claimed that she was ‘disappointed’ in the show because Carter ‘had no rapport with the audience’. On the contrary, given her upbeat manner and professionalism, Carter is well equipped to handle an audience, and she does so very well, though the Garrick’s opening night crowd, (judging from snippets of overheard conversation) consisted of curiosity-seekers, others who, like me, had always admired Carter’s personality and public persona, comic book and TV show fans, (quite a few in Wonder Woman t-shirts), and others, who, given the standing ovation at the end, genuinely love Carter’s singing.


A grand piano, drums, sax, bass and guitar were standing at the ready onstage as we went to our seats. Three female backup singers took their places stage right as a keyboard player appeared to occupy a space far left. When all were present, the band launched into the Martha and the Vandellas hit, ‘Dancing in the Street’ as Lynda Carter’s voice could be heard singing lead from the wings as she walked onstage. Her smile and bright blue eyes were still the same, and she looked the part in white silk tunic, black tights and fringed, ultra-high heels. Lots of applause, and cheering from fans and Lynda, who smiles more than any singer I’ve ever seen, launches into Al Green’s ‘Stay.’ She’s warming up now, singing like she means it. The arrangement has a jazzy twist which suits her voice. ‘A zillion years ago, she begins,’ I sang at the London Palladium… not sure what year it was.’ ‘1925’ a cheeky man yells from the front of the stalls. Carter makes a face, and brushes his remark off with a grin. She can afford to – it’s going well.  She tells the audience ‘her grandfather was a cowboy in the Wild West’ and the best part of growing up in Arizona was being able to look up at night and see the stars. It’s the perfect cue for a song. ‘Up on the Roof’ a number made famous by The Drifters with the line, ‘at night the stars put on a show for free,’ follows. This is a song Carter has a personal link to and she sings it accordingly, emoting her way through the lyrics. Mandatory Wonder Woman references include a demonstration of ‘the spin’, which Carter claims to have invented. Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, with funky sax playing from Lou Marini and looking back at the 1950’s delivery reminiscent of Rocky Horror from Carter suggests it could become one of her signature songs. Marini has played with loads of stars over the years, among them, the original Blues Brothers. Carter’s voice is accompanied by tight harmonies from the three backup singers. When she speaks about her beauty pageant days, the 1925 guy picks his moment to yell the year out again. No matter, as Carter goes into Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’, and her delivery of the song is dreamy and surprisingly innocent with fine and mellow sax accompaniment.  At this point, I began to realize that I might like Carter’s voice even more if I could hear her ‘unplugged’, i.e. sans backing vocals, hearty drumming and full band, as she has great control allowing her to seemingly, end this number with a sigh. Her take on Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ reflects on Patsy Cline’s famous version, but slightly more upbeat. Still, it made me wonder whether Carter should be focusing more attention on torch singing. By the time she delivers the self penned, ‘Jessie’s Song’, about her now grown up daughter, with a slightly country tinge, I feel she doesn’t need as much accompaniment as she has here. However, Marini’s sax playing is as appealing as ever. Paying tribute to her musical director/drummer, Paul Liem, eight time Country Drummer of the Year, who’s worked with many greats, among them Ray Charles, and played on the original Wonder Woman music, Carter sings another of her own compositions, the frantically delivered ‘Stay With Me’ which she joked was for the ‘then love of her life’, her husband, whom she is still with after twenty-seven years. From the way she belts it out, there’s no doubt the song is part of her personal history. Though Carter cited ‘Sentimental Journey’ as a Fats Waller composition, it was in fact, one of those timeless 1940’s songs, sung during WWII (by Doris Day), with music by Les Brown and Ben Homer, and lyrics by Bud Green. Nevertheless, Carter’s singing of this song, which she claimed her parents fell in love to, is superlative. Likewise, her breathy delivery on ‘Fever’, Peggy Lee’s 1950’s classic signifies that she is similarly well suited to it.  Multi-talented musician Marini switched to clarinet on this occasion. Carter’s interests within the annals of jazz and popular music made me wonder whether it might be a good idea for her to stage a show around signature songs of some of America’s acclaimed female singers, down through the eras. As she is currently working on her third album, it will be interesting to see what numbers she chooses for it. ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ by the aforementioned Fats Waller, which found Carter happily in her element again, closed part one.


A torchy version of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ opened act two, a number with the option for Carter to potentially, tear it up, though the backing vocals rushed the song along, which was a shame, as it robbed the performance of much of its emotional impact. Speaking of her Mexican grandmother, Carter paid tribute with ‘Sway’, in its’ original and best format sung as a cha-cha by Rosemary Clooney, at its most corny via Dean Martin’s lazy crooning and most banal by The Pussycat Dolls. The next number, a song by Tom Waites originally sung by Ricky Lee Jones left us in the cold, as it was unclear what Carter was driving at with her rendition, though given the right type of arrangement, she may have been able to beat the leopard spots off of Jones with it.  ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (if It Ain’t Got That Swing)’, with great accompaniment by her pianist, Tom Deering, found Carter back on home turf, though scat is best left to experts like her wily sax player, Lou Marini. Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ offered a delectable rock and roll opportunity that was achieved via the altering of Carter’s voice from sweet to a tad gravelly during the course of the song. If she’d let loose and allowed this gravelly aspect to emerge in her voice, perhaps she could meet such numbers more head on in future, bearing in mind that the alternative is dated corn, though it was obvious that given a little encouragement in the right directions, Carter could kick. With Mr. Sax, Marini switching over to flute on ‘Rio de Janeiro,’ which some of you might remember as ‘When My Baby Smiles at Me’, Carter and her backing trio were afforded plenty of opportunities for girlish wiggles. This was quickly followed by an accelerated version of Louis Jordon’s hit, ‘Let the Good Times Roll,’ with its goat-getting line, ‘Don’t care if you’re young or old’,’ which Carter told us to dance in place to, at which time nearly everyone jumped to their feet. Vicki Hampton, who formerly backed up Aretha Franklin and many other great artists, joined Carter to belt out a couple of raw and ready verses of Jordon’s motivator, full on enough to activate even the most dormant mojos.


It’s great that Carter can get physically into a song like ‘Rio’ but her delivery of it, and mugging gestures straddle the fine line between fun and fluff, and the same was true of the upbeat Jordon number, due to its fast paced, somewhat dulled arrangement. However, the drum solo on ‘Rio’ was stunning and it was high time Liem showed off his sticks. But, to this ardent fan of Bessie Smith and blues in general, Carter’s speeded up version of ‘St Louis Blues’ seemed much more sacrilegious than soulful. For the most part, the second half of Carter’s program seemed more like a revue than a concert.


At Last, Carter’s second and latest album, premiered at No. 6 on the Billboard Jazz chart, not surprising in light of the fact that live, her smoothly sizzling delivery of classics like Peggy Lee’s hit ‘Fever’ more than deliver the goods. Though that particular song isn’t among the standards, cinematic or soulful, on Carter’s latest CD, others from that collection winningly sung here included‘You Send Me’ and the album’s title song, ‘At Last’, originally sung by Etta James. Carter’s most shining moments occurred during when she was plugged into more unplugged numbers like ‘Sentimental Journey’, and ‘Jessie’s Song’ which she emotively performed, rather than on deliberately upbeat numbers done more for their own sakes in order to add spice and possibly,  accessibility to Carter’s act. Though the performances of the more frantically sung numbers seemed like high points to many of Carter’s male admirers in the audience, as exhibited by their wolfish grins, I have to admit she lost me sometimes and, as another woman behind me spoke disparagingly about the performances of such numbers, there were signs of unrest among some of the females in the audience. Perhaps some re-thinking of the material chosen and/or reworking of their arrangements would up the ante on Carter’s act, as she is a naturally classy lady, with a voice already capable of doing justice to jazz standards, ballads and numbers of a moderate tempo, and there are plenty of gems of that ilk from all eras out there, some contemporary, rife for mining and re-framing in order to allow Carter to make them her own. Whenever Carter’s sweet, clear voice could be heard, she had the ability to keep the audience with her, come rain or come shine, as the song goes. Conversely, when she attempted to belt out rockier numbers, complete with, in the case of ‘Locomotion’, a bit of a bump and grind accompaniment in conjunction with three back-up singers, a generic sounding arrangement thwarted her attempt, making it seem as though her voice was not suited to delivering such numbers, though, in all likelihood, that may not actually be the case. Intriguing as they may be from a curiosity standpoint, such performances did not really do her image or her voice justice.


That said, it must be added that Carter won me over with her sunny personality from the outset, so I found myself willingly rooting for her along with her ardent fans, whatever she was singing. However, as my male companion stated during her vintage sounding ‘Sentimental Journey’, one ‘could picture her with a flower in her hair’, she is capable of singing romantic ballads and songs with both great expressiveness and a kind of innocence that’s very appealing. So much so that as sung, some of the more rocking numbers in her set tend to come across as filler, and may always, unless she is able to let loose and infuse them with the edge needed to make them. As things stand however, either more rawness is required, or the elimination of such numbers altogether, in favour of an expansion of Carter’s inherent elegance via a suitably timeless repertoire.

Garrick Theatre
 Charing Cross Road, London WC2

20:00pm

Tickets: £39.50, £29.50, £25.00, £15.00

Box Office: 0844 412 4662 (24 hrs)

www.lyndainlondon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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