‘Close to You’

‘Close to You’ recalls Carpenters
Fairmont sentinel
October 8, 2013

FAIRMONT – “Long ago and oh so far away, I fell in love with you …” Karen Carpenter sang in the song “Superstar.”

How true that is for many of her fans.

Carpenter died 30 years ago, but a group of Chicago musicians are aiming to bring her music to life through a production called “Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters.”

The show comes to Fairmont Opera House on Friday, as part of the venue’s subscription series.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, and can be purchased online at www.fairmontoperahouse.com or by calling (507) 238-4900.

Close to You is not the simple performance Carpenter fans would have seen during the band’s nine years of touring, which often featured just Karen and her brother, Richard, on stage. Instead, frontwoman Lisa Rock and her six bandmates have carefully re-created the album arrangements, keeping them in the original key thanks to Rock’s four-octave range.

“It’s an honor to sing it and to have the compliments that it sounds like her is a big deal to me,” said Rock, who was a junior high student when she heard the news that Karen had unexpectedly died at age 32 of complications from anorexia nervosa.

“They were only out on the road doing this for nine years – that just wasn’t enough,” Rock said.

Based on the success of Close to You, Rock is not the only one who can’t get enough of The Carpenters.

“I’ve written so many shows and cabarets and had things sell out, but this one we’re booked out through 2016,” she said. “… The demand is out there.”

The Carpenters’ appeal could be attributed to the simplicity and haunting beauty of Karen’s voice, the poignancy of the songwriting, and the contrast they presented to the protest music of their era.

“It strikes a chord for many people, and listening to the music today, you can hear how ahead of the times she was, and how many of those songs are semi-autobiographical,” Rock said.

But Karen’s admirers extend beyond the generations who grew up listening to The Carpenters. Rock has been approached by audience members of all ages, from children to senior citizens in their 90s, who have recognized some if not all of the songs from Rock’s repertoire, even if they didn’t always realize who originally sang those songs prior to the tribute concert.

Rock recalled one audience heavily comprised of college students, who lined up afterward to get autographs.

“We didn’t expect that,” she said, laughing. “They were so excited to meet us. … It was so sweet. I love that we’re affecting a younger generation who knows nothing about them.”

She gives her band much of the credit for creating that enthusiasm.

“It’s such a tight band. They’re great musicians,” she said.

Eric Engelson is on drums; Justin Boiler plays bass and guitar; Amy Malouf does backup vocals and percussion; Ken McMullen is the pianist; Dave Orlicz plays nine instruments, including woodwinds and keyboards; and the multi-talented Micky York provides backup vocals and plays keyboards, harp and drums.

“Even if [people] aren’t fans of the Carpenter music, they leave being fans of my band,” Rock said.