×

Mary Chapin Carpenter; Steve Earle

Whitney Houston may claim that she's every woman, but Mary Chapin Carpenter -- who'd never be so audacious as to make such a boast -- has been proving it for a decade and a half now. She's spoken in the voice of the artsy post-adolescent, the career-driven thirtysomething and most recently in that of the woman on the cusp of middle age.

With:
Musicians: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Duke Levine, John Jennings, Kevin Barry, John Carroll, Dave Maddox; Steve Earle.

Whitney Houston may claim that she’s every woman, but Mary Chapin Carpenter — who’d never be so audacious as to make such a boast — has been proving it for a decade and a half now. She’s spoken in the voice of the artsy post-adolescent, the career-driven thirtysomething and most recently in that of the woman on the cusp of middle age, juggling hopes and regrets — along with a life brimming with contradictions.

Intermittently embraced by a country audience, Carpenter wades into folksy waters at times, occasionally dipping a toe into Sarah McLachlan-styled ethereal pop. Dodging country cliche, she exuded earthy charm on a honky-tonk cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses” and a teasing take on her own “I Feel Lucky,” which outstripped the sexual charge of more ostentatious country divas by dint of its slow simmering tone.

Over the course of a short, well-paced set, the Washington D.C.-based singer-songwriter aired both angst and affirmation, punctuating the dozen songs performed with humanizing (and entirely believable) anecdotes about supermarket checkout lines and painful chance meetings with ex-lovers. In both song and story, Carpenter comes off as the good girl who’d give anything to be a little bit bad, but ends up muddling through in the middle of the road.

That proved affecting on gossamer narrative ballads like “Swept Away” and stark, half-spoken tales like “Simple Life,” both of which cut to the quick with tiny lyrical details and smart, sweet phrasing on Carpenter’s part. It grew overweening, however, when she tried too hard to offer affirmations to her listeners. “King of Love,” for instance, was trite enough to pass for an “Ally McBeal” voiceover.

Still, as a feel-good experience — one that did tweak the grey matter more than most country perfs — Carpenter’s set was hard to fault.

Steve Earle didn’t allow the unaccustomed opening slot to dampen his fiery iconoclasm, delivering a solo acoustic performance that showcased both his rough-hewn songs and his skills as an orator. While the former were better-received — particularly the down-and-dirty “Copperhead Road” and a hypnotic, Eastern-tinged “Transcendental Blues” — Earle didn’t tone down his politically charged diatribes for the uninitiated.

The Texan’s pet issue is the death penalty (a cause he’s devoted much time and money to opposing) and the impassioned speech with which he introduced the dark prison tale “Ellis Unit One” was both stirring and nervy, a rare trick for an opener to pull off.

Popular on Variety

Mary Chapin Carpenter; Steve Earle

Theater at Madison Square Garden,New York; 5,600 seats; $60 top

Production: Presented by Radio City Entertainment and SFX. Reviewed Aug. 15, 2001.

Cast: Musicians: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Duke Levine, John Jennings, Kevin Barry, John Carroll, Dave Maddox; Steve Earle.

More Music

  • Maya Thurman Hawke at the Premiere

    Maya Hawke Debuts Two Singles Ahead of Album Release

    Fresh off her Manson cult role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Maya Hawke is turning to music. The “Stranger Things” star released two new singles Friday, “To Love a Boy” and “Stay Open,” both of which will appear on her yet-to-be-titled upcoming album. Hawke wrote the lyrics and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jesse [...]

  • Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music

    As Woodstock Turns 50, the Fest's 10 Most Sacred Music Moments (Watch)

    Cars were left abandoned along the New York Interstate. Electrical and speaker systems fuzzed and popped. Amps blew then went silent. The rain was endless as the mud sank deep and rank. Young children ran naked and dazed through crowds of strangers. Food was scarce. Water, unclean. Looking back, Woodstock seems a more apocalyptic, than [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Jay-Z to Acquire Ownership Stake in NFL Team (Report)

    Jay-Z will soon acquire a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, TMZ reported on Friday. The team was not disclosed, but a source told the site the deal will happen in the “near future,” adding that the billionaire rapper “wants to continue to be a change agent for the NFL.” Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, [...]

  • (L-R) NELL WILLIAMS as Eliza, VIVEIK

    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Blake Shelton, Trace AdkinsCMA Music Festival

    Blake Shelton Takes a Shot at 'Old Town Road' in New Single

    Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right,” that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road.” But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam — or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr. over Lil Nas X, the breakout [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content