Shortly after the forty-fifth anniversary of the release of Carole King’s chart topping and best-selling album, Tapestry, Debra Byrne and Vika Bull performed three sold out shows at the Melbourne Arts Centre to celebrate the music of the prolific artist. Six months later, the pair have enlisted the talents of the Brill Band once more to tour the show to both metropolitan and regional locations, ensuring that King’s music can be appreciated by more than just the regular Arts Centre crowd.
Walking into the Horsham Town Hall Theatre as a reviewer in my home town, I was struck by an anticipatory atmosphere I hadn’t before experienced from a local audience. Our new theatre was bitterly fought for by the Wimmera arts community, and knowing that we were about to see such immense Australian talent performing the catalogue of one of the most popular musicians of all time made the energy in the building almost palpable.
Although they have completely different performance styles and vocal qualities, the piercing brightness of Bull’s tones blended perfectly with Byrne’s rich, vibrato-filled performance, balancing melody and harmonic lines brilliantly. Additional vocals from band members added even tighter harmony in some songs, and each new interpretation of a King classic was skillfully introduced, establishing the familiar before moving into new and complex arrangements.
The banter between Bull and Byrne was tuned to perfection as were the anecdotes they used to illustrate their connection to the music, giving us a relaxed history of King’s transition from composer to recording artist.
Staging was simple and modest, with the vocalists performing on a tapestry carpet and musicians organised in a crescent around its edges. The decision of the vocalists to present the concert barefoot added to the understated aesthetic – it gave the impression that in addition to having a wonderful understanding of the musical and technical elements of King’s songs, the artists also had a solid connection to the unassuming emotional tapestry of the lyrics and melodies they were presenting.
Lighting design subtly marked the emotional heights of the performances, with yellow tones used in upbeat songs and cooler blue/purple tones in more reflective pieces. Choreographed movement was used sparingly and to great effect in the more upbeat of King’s songs (‘Hard Rock Café’ featured Bull and Byrne dancing their way off stage in unison), with natural movement preferred for most of the program.
A highlight of the concert was the interaction between the vocal artists and the Brill band. A mutual respect for each other and the material they were playing was evident, with Bull and Byrne referring to King as “life-changing” and “legendary” throughout their short monologues. It was also fantastic to see the women singling out each band member for an introduction during the performance and thanking them constantly for their work. I would have liked to see this atmosphere of mutual appreciation more eagerly fostered by ushers, as no attempt was made to stop audience members from openly recording large portions of the concert. Bad manners on behalf of a handful of audience members were not too detrimental to our shared experience, however, as the artists presented hit after hit, never allowing the energy of the audience to falter.
Tapestry was presented exactly as Carole King’s catalogue should be: by talented artists who can interpret the emotion behind her melody and lyric, using their unique musicality and love of entertaining to enhance an already perfect songbook. Bull, Byrne, and the Brill Band are to be congratulated on their efforts to create such a polished, down-to-earth program of King’s music, and especially for their choice to showcase their talents and respect for the artist in rural and regional locations.