I didn’t know much about Reeve Carney, which is the main reason why I went along to his solo show in London, the first one he’s ever done in this city. I found myself sat amongst people who had listened to his album, ‘Youth Is Wasted’, winner of the 2018 Independent Music Award for ‘Best Album – Adult Contemporary’, over and over again, probably knowing the lyrics as well as he does. I had, and still don’t, haven’t a clue about ‘Penny Dreadful’, apparently a television horror series (as Ariana Grande puts it, ‘thank u, next’), and had only the National Theatre production Carney was in, Hadestown, thanks to a number of hearty recommendations from friends and acquaintances, who rated that show very highly. Carney will transfer with the show to Broadway (I would rather it had a West End transfer, but then I would, wouldn’t I?).
A concert like his is best understood by those who have some familiarity (beyond said NT show) with his career to date. An example. What seemed to me like a random inclusion of a Rocky Horror Show number was, for those in the know, an unsubtle reference to Carney playing Riff Raff in a 2016 film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again, a picture which apparently had an identical plot to the 1975 one. Carney, like many a successful performer, has certain fans who follow him wherever he goes in the world – here, one of them started assuming an instrumental introduction was going to lead into a cover of Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, to the point where she started singing it, much to the audience’s amusement. Carney got the last laugh, though: having left his setlist for the second half behind in his dressing room, post-interval proceedings were accomplished by way of playing whatever songs in his back catalogue felt right. So, our lady in the audience having hijacked a song, he quickly changed what he was playing into something else. Ha!
It’s that sort of assured confidence that makes for a mesmerising performance. Performing without his band, (un)imaginatively called Carney, it falls to, um, Carney to rely on technology to provide the desired soundscape for his songs. So, he’s completely on his own on stage, with no backing singers, pressing pedals with his feet (some sort of recording/playback device or other) in the process of making music. He’s remarkably talented, singing his own material (aside from the odd cover here and there), and playing multiple instruments, from a kazoo to The Other Palace Studio’s resident Steinway piano. The trusty guitar is his usual instrument of choice, however, and his setups for each song are meticulous. He’ll tune and tune and tune that guitar until it sounds absolutely, positively, unequivocally, p-e-r-f-e-c-t, and then and only then will the song begin. The result, every time, is nothing short of sublime.
Such is Carney’s passion and commitment to the music he creates that even this repeated process of not settling for ‘that will do’ but striving for the very best never gets dull, not least because he is aware of his audience, and thus engages in banter and a few asides. He seems to go into a trance-like state once a song gets going properly, and the live versions of his melodious tunes are very much extended versions. (He really should do a ‘live’ album.) Some of his lyrics are steeped in religion, or rather personal faith. In one, ‘Think of You’, he references St John’s Gospel, chapter XIV, verse VI: “You are the Way, the Truth and the Life / I’ll follow You”. Others follow a more mainstream lyrical path about personal feelings for a lover. Stretching himself to the limit both vocally and instrumentally, it was all very soulful, if unusual: this was a novel experience that will not be soon forgotten.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.