Carole King’s 1971 album Tapestry encapsulated what Joan Didion called “the morning after the Sixties”. It is such a behemoth that support artist Don Henley singing “Life in the Fast Lane”, an unexpected Tears For Fears cover, and “Hotel California” was a mere warm-up. “You can check out any time you like,” Henley sang, like an ominous warning from Brussels, “but you can never leave.”
This British Summer Time festival appearance was the first time King had performed the album in concert in its entirety. As an overture, her band vamped through its melodies while video messages from Tom Hanks, Elton John and two-thirds of Crosby Stills and Nash attested to its importance. Then King strolled on, sat at the piano and hammered the opening riff of “I Feel the Earth Move”, and a sun-dappled Hyde Park felt like Laurel Canyon. Barrelhouse chords, Hammond organ skirl, breathy syncopated hesitations in the chorus: King ended the song bouncing up and down on the piano stool, hair flying.
Tapestry is so loaded with memorable songs that it sounds like a greatest hits album. Immediately following “I Feel the Earth Move” were “So Far Away”, which King dedicated to James Taylor, and then “It’s Too Late”, with Toni Stern’s peerless opening line “Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time”, King playing sprays of jazzy blue notes with her right hand. There is arguably a slight longueur in the middle of side one, but a bouncy “Beautiful” contained the DNA of Elton John’s entire career in a single bar.
By now King’s piano was blazing orange with the reflected light of the sun sinking over Lancaster Gate. “Way Over Yonder” played with gospel tropes, as the organ churned like magma. After the key change in the last verse, the audience involuntarily twitched to turn the record over — and indeed a giant video screen showed just that happening. The audience sang along with “You’ve Got a Friend”: the crowd strained for the high note; King herself was impeccable.
Next was “Where You Lead”: King had dropped it from live performance on feminist grounds, but now reinstated it in her reworked version for Gilmore Girls, joined by her daughter Louise Goffin, an amiably punchy singer. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” has not aged well, but King sang it sweetly. She then revealed a sequinned top as she strapped on an electric guitar for “Smackwater Jack”, here a honky-tonk thrash with a four-guitar frontline led by the veteran Danny Kortchmar. “This,” shouted King with the understandable pride of a woman who made her first recording in 1958, “is what 74 looks like.”
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” began with footage of the 1971 King nervously introducing the song and playing the first verse: the real one joined in on the chorus and then took over the rest of the song while her younger self blurred, but then the video sang the last line and acknowledged the applause, the older woman momentarily overcome.
Tapestry was, of course, the second act in King’s life, and the concert played out with reminders of the extent of her songbook. There were Brill Building-era songs she co-wrote with her then husband, Gerry Goffin: snatches of “I’m Into Something Good”, “It Might as Well Rain Until September”, a hip-grinding “Loco-Motion” and a thunderous “Chains”, channelling the version by The Beatles. On her own “Jazzman” her glissandi ricocheted off a free-jazz saxophone solo; “Up On the Roof” made the most of a summer night, and a final reworking of “You’ve Got a Friend” included the line “I love you, England”, at a time when England needs all the friends it can get.
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