Saturday, August 13, 2016

Concert Review Flashback - Marc Cohn & Mary Chapin Carpenter at Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Auditorium

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did several hundred features/pieces. One of those was this concert review that I will reprint here to give it a home in perpetuity. This concert review was originally published in July 2013 in Engine 145.

Grass Valley is one of those quaint Northern California towns wedged right between the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Sacramento Valley. It teases with its pine trees, but isn’t quite high enough in elevation to escape the brutal 100+ degree days prevalent in the summer months. With the outside temperatures hovering near 95 as the evening Marc Cohn and Mary Chapin Carpenter concert was to start, the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Auditorium air conditioners were struggling to keep up. The building was built back in 1932 and with a sold-out, decidedly mature crowd filling the room’s 950 seats, the temperature inside wasn’t much different inside from outside.

Three years in the making, this double-bill concert is covering 15 dates throughout the summer for the two Grammy-winning singer-songwriters. The heat took a bit of a respite when the artists came out on stage hand-in-hand to thunderous applause. With backing only by keyboardist Glenn Patscha and guitarist Chris Bruce, the evening evolved into a Storytellers-style event, with the pair swapping stories, instruments and songs effortlessly and organically; that Mary Chapin Carpenter performed barefoot seemed only appropriate.

The two close friends played together on nearly every song–and even covered each other’s songs. Mary Chapin sang Cohn’s “Strangers in a Car” with a soft and subtle interpretation and Cohn sang “The Hard Way,” a song he honored Carpenter with at her recent induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The duet together on Cohn’s “Perfect Love,” The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird.” Each duet was terrific, played slightly different than the original album versions, but where their deep husky voices complimented each other well. When they weren’t playing on each other’s songs, they found a chair and watched appreciatively like the rest of us.

The evening was very funny at times. Carpenter told a story of recently shopping at a grocery store when she thought the youngish checker might be checking her out, only to tell her that his grandmother loves her music. She kept finding the lone fan pointed at the stage and let it whip her hair around like she was a model posing for a photo shoot. It was poignant at other times as her incredible delivery of the severely underrated “This Shirt” and yet-to-be-released “Hand on My Back” proved. The common denominator that tied it all together was a lean on terrifically-written songs. Both great songwriters in their own right, they leaned on their own heroes here and there.

That religious revival observation prior to the show starting proved to be a bit telepathic. Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” descended into a full gospel track complete with clapping and call-and-response. The twosome concluded the night with a Frank Sinatra medley and audience sing-along (something they had performed together in New York for a Central Park fundraiser in June). After all, it really was a revival–just maybe not a religious one. We were just all there to give praise to incredible songwriting and to thank the heavens for these two extremely talented singers and musicians on stage.

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