Carpenters tribute concert at Chastain aims to conjure memories, not imitate

The Band, left to right: John Billings (Bass), Matt Berry (Guitar), Harry Sharpe (Music Director/Keys), Michelle Berting Brett (Lead Vocals), Jamie Lynn Citerin (Background Vocals), Steve Cox (Piano/Wurlitzer), Kenny Anderson (Reeds), & George Perilli (Drums)

Even if your tastes run more Metallica than Manilow, most music listeners retain a healthy respect for the music of The Carpenters.

Those beautifully glossy hits of the ‘70s – “Close To You,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Goodbye To Love,” “Superstar” – all tinted with the melancholy that resided in Karen Carpenter’s stunning contralto vocal range, are also ingrained in pop history.

There is no substitute for the voice of Carpenter, who died in 1983 after suffering from anorexia, nor can the timeless compositions of her brother Richard ever really be duplicated.

But Michelle Berting Brett and a seven-piece Nashville band commendably pay tribute to the Carpenters’ sound with “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered,” which will make its Atlanta debut at Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Saturday.

The effervescent Berting Brett called in earlier this week – she and husband Mark Brett arrived in Atlanta early – to talk about the show. You can hear more of her interview with me and River 97.1 afternoon drive host Kaedy Kiely here.

Q: This is your first show in Atlanta, right?

A: It’s our first time in Atlanta, our Chastain debut, our Live Nation debut. The cool thing about this gig, our band is based in Nashville and two of them are from Atlanta and they both said, “You have to play Chastain!”

Michelle Berting Brett sings the songs of Karen Carpenter.

Q: Tell us how this show came about.

A: It all started in the ‘70s when I was growing up in Canada listening to the Carpenters and Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon and all of those wonderful singers. I went to study opera and musical theater and worked in musical theater for first 10 years of my career…while waiting for jobs I worked as a waitress, took voice lessons and I started putting together cabaret shows and working in small clubs with a trio. In addition to doing show tunes, I started pulling out pop tunes from my youth and around that time people started to tell me I sounded like Karen Carpenter. She’s such an iconic voice and she was such a part of my youth. So I started doing some other songs and someone would almost always come up after the show and have this wonderful emotional story about what Karen meant to them or what their songs meant, so I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a Carpenters show, one hit after another.

When I met my now-husband Mark (Brett, who produces the show), I told him about the idea to put together a show. For a singer, to sing melodies like this and to sing these lyrics, there’s so much rich material. It started as just a little show at a cabaret club in Toronto and seeing how people would react, it was wonderful. Next thing you know, we had another group and Mark proposed to me onstage in Quebec and I moved to Connecticut and we decided we’re going to live here, base (the production) here. We wanted to get the best musicians and re-create as best as possible that sound Karen and Richard had. Harry Sharpe, our music director, helped us handpick this incredible band. We create that sound and there’s nothing like hearing these beautiful songs played by live musicians – that flute on “We’ve Only Just Begun,” that sax solo in “Rainy Days and Mondays.” We’ve played Vegas, we played the Carpenters’ hometown last summer. The Carpenters fans, they come out and they are so wonderful, they share all of those cool stories.

Q: What can concertgoers expect from the show?

A: It’s not an impersonation. What it really is is about the sound and because our producer has worked with so many artists who knew Karen and Richard, we have so many stories that we work into the show. But our audience always comes up and says, “This is like a Broadway musical,” and because their story is so powerful and dramatic, it does take people on a journey through the show. I think it would be an incredible musical – the songbook, the story, it’s all there for a great musical experience.

I tell stories in between the songs; multimedia adds another element to the show. We don’t have tons of footage of them – that would be another show all together. If you go to YouTube what is there in terms of their TV appearances, documentaries, these clips have millions of hits, they had such a following. The spectrum of or audience, it’s certainly 45-plus, but we have kids in their 20s who show up saying, “Karen Carpenter is my favorite singe,” How cool is that?

Q: What is the toughest song for you to sing?

A: They’re all quite challenging. She always considered herself a drummer who sang, but that gal had this effortless sound. The truth is, that particular register she sang in is a lower register in the female voice. She also had this incredible capacity for singing long, long, long phrases. The whole show is a challenge in terms of capturing her phrasing and singing in that register.

Songs like “Ticket to Ride,” it was their first single. They did a crazy-great arrangement of it, but that song is murder to sing. There will never be another Karen Carpenter or anyone who can replace her at all, but it’s about honoring her beautiful phrasing and the way she revealed those songs and she did it in such a simple, masterful way. In some ways we sort of lost that.


CONCERT PREVIEW

“We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered”

8 p.m. July 15. $25-$55. Chastain Park Amphitheatre, 4469 Stella Drive NW, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.

 

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