Jeff Carpenter at the Piano
JOE BATES becomes a member of the Jeff Carpenter fan club.
The Jeff Carpenter fan club was out in force last night for his one off ADC solo show. From the moment he walked on stage the whooping began; it wouldn’t stop until he bowed out an hour later. He earned this adoration: despite the odd lapse of interest, his set was generally gripping, often brilliant and always perfectly performed.
He was at his best when showcasing his dry, Noel Coward wit. His cruel song about a stupid lover was undoubtably the highlight of the night: punchlines came thick and fast and the audience was mesmerised by his impressive control over the skittering vocal line. Throughout his comic songs, effective word play was matched with inventive pianistic figuration.
This was most apparent in his cover of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’. His idiomatic yet inventive piano writing stopped it becoming a boringly vamped cover and helped him make a very simple punchline – he’s gay!!! – very funny.
His pitch-perfect piano writing also extended to the discreet but tight band, whose laid back grooves blended well with Jeff’s soloistic approach. The Arcadia Quartet were less capable. Persistent tuning issues were combined with fairly dull orchestrations; it was easy to tell that Jeff was most at home at the piano.
Jeff combined his pianistic accomplishments with a hefty dose of showmanship. His own brand nerdy charisma charmed the audience into receptive submission. By the end, the only person having more fun than us was Jeff himself, whose wide grin energised the show throughout.
Predictably, it was when the grin disappeared that the set’s consistency wavered. Jeff’s serious songs always managed to stay just the right side of mawkish and the performance remained engaging, but the clarity and energy that marked his comedy was often absent. His comic songs kept their momentum through clever lyrics and unexpected turns of phrase, while all too often the serious songs resorted to confusing metaphor.
It was revealing that the most effective melancholic song was from Bereavement The Musical. Its emotional punch was partly due to its moving back story and obvious sincerity, but also because the lyrical devise (‘I don’t always think of her’) was simple and effective. By contrast, the solo violin piece (‘Through The Picture’) seemed to lack the direction and structure that Jeff normally created with his lyrics.
Writing top class lyrics in serious songs is a harder task than anything else in song writing. But it is clearly a challenge that Jeff Carpenter is up to. The night as a whole revealed a clever, flexible songwriter with impeccable technique, buckets of charm and a loyal (read: loud) fan base. It’s a shame for Cambridge he’s going, but at least he’s going far.