Lisa Rock is a living authority on The Carpenters. Performing with the show Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters, she knows the music inside and out and has performed the songs almost as much as the original band in its prime. She bristles at the notion that she’s part of a tribute act. Rock isn’t playing the part of the late superstar, rather she’s honoring the contributions of a woman who was ahead of her time and left the party far too soon.
Rock and her six-piece band perform the music of The Carpenters in the production Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters with two shows at 3 pm and 8 pm March 4 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts (www.artistseriesjax.com).
“I’ve loved the music my whole life. My parents had the first albums so I grew up with them. Anything to keep this music alive because you know it’s going to be 50 years in 2019 since it was recorded. It’s hard to kind of fathom that idea. It’s really a thrill and an honor to get to do it,” says Rock. “We talk about how many times we’ve played this show and I never get tired of doing it. The music is amazing and so timeless. It’s just fun to play and I have a live band that’s playing all those notes that you grew up listening to. I still pinch myself.”
Considered one of the best vocalists of all time, Karen Carpenter captured the attention of a generation with the surprisingly deep material of her unabashedly catchy pop music. Rock compiled the stirring homage to the music and life of Carpenter and the band recreates the original sound of The Carpenters performing many of the most memorable songs of the 70’s including We’ve Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays and, of course, Close to You.
Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters takes audiences on a musical journey through the Carpenters’ catalog. Rock weaves stories and anecdotes about the band in between numbers. She looks into the faces in the crowd and relishes those special moments when the right song triggers a memory. It’s the shared connection with the audience that she looks forward to night after night.
“We’ve met people that are related to them, people that were cousins of former band members and we’ve heard so much. So many stories run through my head and it’s different every night. I see things that were particular market. The Crocker Bank commercial is where “We’ve Only Just begin” was from. It was based off two lines from that commercial and when we were in Northern California, they knew what that was because it was where it debuted,” says Rock.
“One time, I was calling about my business credit and I told the guy ‘I’m in a Carpenters band’ and he said ‘I gotta tell you a story’. This guy actually auditioned to be a backup singer and he went to their house. Agnes, their mother, answered the door and Richard was at the piano. And he said ‘oh my God, I was coming in to audition for someone not knowing it was going to be them, and the fact that they stayed humble and lived at home for a long time, I think that’s a surprise because this business can eat you alive. Obviously, it got the best of her but at the heart of it, they were everyday people who just happened to be musicians”
“They were so strong in their musicianship and they were really perfectionists. Everything you heard on the record, you heard on the stage as well.”
Rock shares many similarities with Karen Carpenter. As a singer and a playwright, she is an artist in her own right and understands the pull of playing in front of a live crowd. She’s often told that she has a dynamic stage presence. But Carpenter wasn’t the typical front woman. She was soft; quiet. Her power was in her subtlety, a quality that endeared her to fans who found her reserve relatable.
“I think that she didn’t have that air about her. She wasn’t comfortable out there. She never wanted that in the first place. Sadly, she never saw herself as anything other than a drummer that sang. They stuck her out front because no one knew where to look on the stage. Nobody knew where to focus when she was behind the kit and there was this voice coming out and they didn’t know where it was. I think for her, she was reluctant. She’s not with us anymore for a very particular reason and I’m very protective of her. I think everybody was, her brother, her band, anyone who knew her because she did have that vulnerability and it showed on stage. It showed in every part of her life.”
Off stage, Carpenter fought her and eventually succumbed to her own private demons but it has done nothing to tarnish the artistry and the contributions of a woman cited as a significant influence by such current artists like Adele and Christina Aguilera. Her loss remains a tragedy in what could have been.
“They were so strong in their musicianship and they were really perfectionists. Everything you heard on the record, you heard on the stage as well,” says Rock. “Karen was ahead of her time. She loved music and I don’t think she would have ever stopped. She would have kept going. Music was her soul.”