Where: Manchester
Venue: La Gayola

Justin Bond became aware of his sexuality at an early age. The turning point being when a sympathetic relative realised Justin was no good at sports and offered an alternative of playing with Barbie dolls with The Carpenters as a soundtrack. This life-long commitment to the group has motivated Justin to structure his new show around their album – "Close to You."

Bond is a poor storyteller. He drifts off the point and reaches conclusions that are eccentric rather than amusing. Even so he gives a perceptive analysis of the cause of Karen Carpenter’s anorexia. Justin suggests that, unlike him, she went against her nature and the anxiety at being the frontsperson rather than drummer for the group lead to her wasting illness.

Despite Bond’s appreciation of the material it is not appropriate either for his voice or performance style. His voice, although excellent, is too deep for the high range of the songs which leave him struggling to reach some of the notes. On the other hand an encore of "Pissin’ in the River" showcases the power of his vocals and comes close to Patti Smith’s frightening original.

Bond does not adjust his performance style to suit the image of the Carpenters. Unlike Karen who dressed down in casual clothes, he adopts a sparkly little number with his hair pulled back in a severe look. His mannerisms reflect the melodrama of the silent film stars. But the grand gestures and staring, distorted face do not accord with the mellow tunes and over-sweet lyrics.

It is hard to judge how well the performance matches the original (the amount of research I’m prepared to undertake does not include listening to Carpenters’ records). But whoever decided to interpret the aching "Reason to Believe" as a country dance should be ashamed and aware that it draws attention to Justin’s stiff-limbed dancing.
 
Pianist Lance Horne provides musical direction as well as backing. Although the talented band was picked up at short notice, it does not show in their empathic performance as they deliver the responsive backing that captures the lush spirit of the songs.

It is easy to see the attraction of the Carpenters’ songs for Justin Bond but their material is not suited to his powerful vocals or style. One hopes that the next tour will feature material better suited to his talent. Patti Smith's "Horses", perhaps?

- Dave Cunningham