photo: Russ Turk
The idea of performance artist Justin Bond (the "female" half of Kiki and Herb) performing the Carpenters' album "Close To You" in its entirety might sound like a recipe for camp send-up. Instead, the most cutting edge thing about the evening was that it was played (mostly) as sincere, respectful, and highly personal homage. A couple of attempts to give the evening a momentary '70's variety show feel didn't change that, and when Bond got a seemingly unexpected laugh out of a lyric in "Baby It's You," he pulled back from it immediately. Backed by an impressive (but, regretably, underrehearsed) band aimed at approximating the Carpenters' distinctive sound, Bond marched through every song on the album in order, including the hit singles "We've Only Just Begun" and "Close To You," covers of The Beatles' "Help," Rod Stewart's "Reason To Believe," and the aforementioned Shirelles song, and little-known Carpenters oddities such as the album's closer "Another Song," which ends with three minutes of acid-lite jam session. It's a weird, early album that could never lay claim to being representative and typical of the brother-sister duo's music, but its variety and relative obscurity make it a lively set on stage. More urgently, it means something to Bond - the flyer that served as the evening's program includes his recollections of first hearing it at the age of seven, and being profoundly affected by Karen Carpenter's voice, both "reassuring and profoundly sad." Bond's own voice is an entirely different kind of instrument somewhere in the gin-soaked, world-weary Marianne Faithfull family, but that's what makes the evening's drama. Listening to Bond reverently reproducing each of Karen's vocal phrases without any of her prettiness, the underlying sadness is front and center. It seemed an entirely appropriate tribute.