Taking a brief rest in her busy schedule as a children’s music composer, Judy Pancoast put together Close To You: A Live Tribute To The Carpenters. Pancoast has been a fan of The Carpenters since she was 11 years old and has seen them in concert five times, culminating in a backstage meeting. Last Sunday’s tribute concert at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts might be the beginning of a big thing for Pancoast.
Presenting The Carpenters’ major hit songs and some lesser known gems, Pancoast kept her audience thoroughly entertained for over two hours, reaching people on an emotional level. Pancoast didn’t settle for imitation. She channeled the essence of what The Carpenters always tried to do: show respect and warmth for the people they were singing to. And Pancoast has a voice to handle the technical challenges and emotive qualities of that music.
Pancoast’s voice rose above the music on The Carpenters’ rendition of “Ticket To Ride,” settling comfortably in that zone where Karen Carpenter made her vocal the key instrument in each song. A listener almost doesn’t feel the build up to the chorus because Pancoast can deliver it so unobtrusively. This is one thing that makes this music work so well for her, or make Pancoast work well for the music.
Pancoast’s vocal timber widens majestically during each chorus. It is in this singer’s ability to suddenly shift dynamics or widen her timbre that made her uniquely suited to deliver these heart warming, time-honored songs. Remember, with The Carpenters, most of the power was in Karen Carpenter’s ability to use her voice as the principle instrument. She may have seemed merely a pleasant voice on the radio or on your turntable, but there were actually a lot of sophisticated techniques employed by that pop singer.
Pancoast moved her sweet voice forward along the vocal melody lines with a charming charisma, making you like her with a pleasant something in her singing style, her natural colors and tones fitting in so well with the poignant drama in these songs.
Pancoast showed a sweeping range of colors and tones in her presentation of “We’ve Only Just Begun.” She sustained notes while infusing them with the proper emotion. Piano player and the show’s music director, Michael Pierce, gave each note the right touch. Much of the Carpenters gentle music was channeled with respectful tinkling by Pierce. It was also the space he opened up for the vocal that made him an important part of this tribute concert. Max Arbuckle played bass. Chris Johnson played drums. Max Huxel played saxophone, and Ben Ennis played guitar. Each player kept the Carpenters’ music right in that zone of comforting, precise and sprightly.
“I Won’t Last A Day Without You” benefited greatly from Pancoast’s sweet ranginess. Her voice rode along with that exquisite pop piano sensibility.
Pancoast captured the essence of Carpenter’s romantic side when she sang “Touch Me When We’re Dancing.” She introduced this song by saying it was from the final album that Karen And Richard Carpenter would make as a duo. “Rainy Days And Monday’s” showcased the musicians that Pancoast had brought along to help her channel this music. Harmonica player Scott Kepnes shined on “Rainy Days.”
“A Kind Of Hush” got a breath of fresh air from Pancoast’s lush vocal timbre. She finessed the song technically while putting heart and soul into the chorus, making you feel emotionally what the song is about. She can hold a note while also infusing it with warmth and tenderness with only piano for accompaniment, launching a note like nobody’s business.
Pancoast introduced many of these song with stories about where she was when she first heard them. She made mention of endearing moments as a charter member of The Carpenters fan club. But, most endearing was when she told of how show met her idols backstage.
A screen behind Pancoast and the musicians displayed Carpenters album covers, depending on which song was being performed. The best picture, though, was of a 14 year old Pancoast meeting her idols. That days of youthful innocence picture, a young girl standing between her two favorite idols, summed up the feeling of the whole concert. It was a tribute by one artist to two others she has followed most of her life and the whole event had the feel of youthful admiration.