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Mary Chapin Carpenter

Venue: The Sage
Town: Gateshead
Date: 7/5/18

Support for the evening came from Australian native, Emily Barker, who I had seen once previously when she performed at Sage with Amy Speace and Amber Rubarth, as Applewood Road. Backed on bass by Lukas Drinkwater, and playing guitar and piano herself, she played us a selection of songs both known and from her new (sold out) CD. Included were Nostalgia, which appeared on the TV series Wallander, Sister Goodbye, her tribute to Sister Rosetta and my favourite, Dear River, which was written about a river in Australia, but tonight was dedicated to the Tyne, since Sage sits on her banks. Reminding me at times of Callaghan, Emily demonstrated her range, from country to blues, ending her set with an a capella gospel song, which I think surprised everyone.

The lights hung above the stage for Mary Chapin Carpenter's set created a beautiful ambience, really setting the scene, it transpired, for what was to follow. Entering the stage to huge applause, Chapin went straight into Heroes and Heroines, Why Walk When You Can Fly, seeming the most relaxed she has appeared in the five times I have now seen her. She was also very talkative and open. She referred, very genuinely, to her delight at being back in this extremely beautiful venue, which, she revealed, she has now seen in every season. She told us it is always a delight to be here but extra special to be kicking off their 2018 UK tour here, in celebration of the new album. The new album, Sometimes Just the Sky was recorded in the Cotswolds, to celebrate thirty years of making music. The title came from an interview she heard with Patti Smith. She had talked about how, if you have a dream, you have to follow it, regardless of loss and rejection; about how often it is the simple things that make us the happiest, a cup of tea with a friend, or even, sometimes, just the sky. On the subject of opening tours, she reminisced that the last time she opened a tour here was with Shawn Colvin, the trip where her suitcase failed to arrive (think Transcendental Reunion) and she had to go out in Newcastle and buy clothes for the show. I always love the feeling such stories generate; that these artists who we love, not only visit, but return and over the years build history, making memories and stories with our area, venue and us ourselves. There is something truly very special about that.

Other songs we were treated to included Superman, This Is Love and I Feel Lucky, the latter showing her more playful side. Departure to Arrival is a beautiful articulation of something so many of us do, travel and I Take My Chances allows her to display a hint of attitude. He Thinks He'll Keep Her, which is stunning live (I remember the old CMT live version with many women of country performing with her) called for Emily Barker to return, whereupon she delivered some absolutely stunning harmony vocals.

Her band were absolutely flawless, incredible musicians, totally in tune with her. I often struggle with drums being too loud and drowning out lyrics but the acoustic drums used tonight were a beautiful addition. Huge kudos also to the fabulous Jon Carroll on piano; absolutely stunning and more than once I found myself in a trance, watching his fingers dance across the keys.

This Shirt brought tears to my eyes, struck by how a life story can be told through such an everyday object, which then carries those memories with it. This song really shows her skills as a songwriter; for which she never seemed to get the recognition she deserved.

The highlight for me was finally seeing her perform Stones in The Road live, not least the touch of genius in the line change, which I won't spoil for those who have not yet seen her. This CD was on often played in my Dad's car on long journeys when I was around ten or eleven and hearing this song live made me feel quite emotional. It occurred to me that looking back, these songs I loved as a child, before I was really even old enough to understand what a lot of them were about, inspired my love of words, language and writing. This then led me to realise that I never imagined I would see Mary Chapin Carpenter play locally even once, much less five times now. I will never take for granted the fact that we have Sage Gateshead and that they bring these artists to us; it is such an incredible gift. Seeing songs performed live that were part of the soundtrack to your life really brings this home in an incredibly powerful way.

All too soon, the night was over and talking about how most songs are in some way autobogrphical, but some more than others, she talked of her life in Virginia and how beautiful everything looks at the golden hour between dusk and sunset. The perfect segue to I Have A Need For Solitude.

Some nights of music you aren't ready to let go of and just wish could last forever; tonight was one of those. Big thankyou to all for a night I will never forget. Chapin promised to return as long as we will have her; judging by the standing ovation, I think the deal was agreed. Whilst we look forward to our next Transcendental Reunion, let's all continue to enjoy those little things; even, sometimes just the sky.

Helen Mitchell

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