In an age when most performers seem desperate to fill a room — playing to the back of the balcony in spaces tiny enough that a whisper could carry from end to end — Carole King took the opposite approach on Wednesday night at her first full-fledged hometown show in a dozen years.
King spent most of the two-hour show holding down the Radio City stage on her own, effectively shrinking the soaring venue to an intimate scale befitting her decision to dub this trek the Living Room Tour. Yes, the Ethan Allen showroom furniture scattered around the stage to underscore that moniker was a bit hokey, but the effortlessness of the singer’s relaxed, conversational tone was anything but.
Rife as it was with anecdotes about decades’ worth of material and the personal life events that surrounded its writing, the perf was more akin to a one-woman show than a standard pop concert. King delivered all the expected standards from her performing career — highlighted by an unexpectedly rough-hewn “I Feel the Earth Move” (one of the tunes fleshed out by her two touring guitarists) and a version of “Jazzman” that let her display her scatting ability.
She also reached into some of the more distant corners of her catalog, going so far as to dust off “Right Girl” — the song that launched her recording career back 47 years ago — with just the right blend of affection and eye-rolling. While most of her Brill Building-era material was cobbled together into medleys — the evening’s one misstep — she did break out nicely breezy full-length renditions of “Up on the Roof” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
As the program went on, the 63-year-old singer’s voice began to show some strain, which she deftly disguised by encouraging audience participation on songs like “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.” In contrast to the obsession with writing perfection she discussed at length during the show, however, King seemed less interested in delivering a flawless performance than in making a connection — and she couldn’t have been more successful in doing that.