Who says accessible
music can't be intelligent? We're not talking Philip
Glass or Aaron Copeland here. Nor even Charles Ives.
and Adam Levin share
a background of classical piano training and pop music
listening. Wendy from the world of American soul and
jazz, Adam from the less straightforward world of
European ("progressive") art rock, or jazz- and
classical-rock fusion, and the "psychedelic" movement
that ushered it in.
What happens when
you combine the two? Musical adventure or
chaos? Passion or cerebralism? Or just
indigestion? Well, you get original songwriting
collaborations like "So Alive" and "Say It".
Remakes of Beatles and Peter Gabriel songs. Along
with other songs and diverse instrumentation Wendy and
Adam are presenting. You even get obscure,
unlikely covers like "Hoping Love Will Last" -- a
heart-rendering "belter" that can't decide whether it's
pop or "prog". Can't it be both?
And who says
a band needs more than two people? In this age of
workstations and state-of-the-art sound production,
keyboardists Wendy Boulding and Adam Levin create a full
group sound with double keyboards and vocals. No
instrumentation is spared in their live execution of Wendy’s
R&B and Adam’s jazz-rock originals, or their impeccably
faithful re-creation of ambitious, rarely covered pop songs.
Close your eyes and it’s all there… basses, drums,
percussion, strings, brass, reeds, even guitars – along with
pianos, organs and synthesizers. As is, of course,
Wendy’s soulful, virtuosic lead singing and embellishments
and Adam’s pristine, supportive vocals and harmonies.
And, to boot, Wendy’s natural showmanship, chemistry and
communication with an audience, during and between songs,
shines through – often with spontaneous, hilarious results.
In short, a fun time is had by all, audience and performers
alike. In this comfortable, intimate setting, the bond
between audience and artists is especially present – and
evident in the audience’s enthusiasm and interaction with
Wendy and Adam’s new,
live repertoire is more accessible, soulful and groove-based
(not to mention fully produced) than ever before. They
kick it off with I
Stare Into The Face of Beauty, Wendy’s funky ode
to newfound love, combining her powerful vocal with her jazz
piano playing. Keeping up that energy level, they
launch into Maroon 5’s soulful Sunday
Morning, a recent hit with shades of Stevie Wonder (and
written, coincidentally, by Adam Levine!) That’s
followed by the similarly spirited Hello
It’s Me, Todd Rundgren’s classic pop hit, complete with
rich vocal harmonies and embellishments.
The barometer drops
several notches with Under
Your Spell (Elizabeth’s Dream), Wendy’s melodic and lush
romantic ballad about the unrequited love of – of all people
– Queen Elizabeth I. This open song plays like an open
letter. Continuing on that lyrical theme (minus the
Queen), Wendy and Adam present their collaborative jazz
ballad Say It.
Not one to disappoint, Wendy follows up her heart-rendering
vocal in this song with yet another tasty, improvisational
From romance to rat
race (or the sublime to the ridiculous), they offer up the
jangling, Fats Waller-style piano and a full horn section
(speaking of fat). As if to find relief, it’s followed
by the lush and tender Hoping
Love Will Last, a wistful ballad written, surprisingly,
by Genesis alumnus Steve Hackett (note its guitar) for soul
singer Randy Crawford. Yet, it could almost pass as an
Adam Levin song written as a vocal showcase for Wendy
Boulding, who transforms it and truly makes it her own.
(As one observer wryly noted, "Steve Hackett and Randy
Crawford's collaboration on 'Hoping Love Will Last' is where
Adam and Wendy's musical backgrounds merge.")
What would you do if
someone was spreading baseless rumors about you? Well,
if you were Adam Levin, you'd write about it in the
catchiest pop song of your life. And if you were Wendy
Boulding, you'd talk him into performing it with you and
dispell those rumors in the process. The result? A
Place In My Heart (If You Don't Know By Now).
Sometimes reality wins out over imagination. Even in
songs. And bringing us a different slice of reality,
and closing the set, is So
Alive, Wendy and Adam's powerful, first songwriting
collaboration inspired by the New York City Marathon, alive
with Latin percussion and more improvisational piano soloing
Set two opens with
Wendy's upbeat Midtown
picturesque portrayal of Wednesday in Manhattan.
Adam's wailing organ solo improv helps capture the frenetic,
funky city landscape described in the song. That's
followed by the equally festive On
the 4th of July, a recent James Taylor song (which
explains the presence, once again, of acoustic guitar!) The
song has a distinct flavor of Brazilian jazz. That
jazz element might explain why Wendy and Adam chose that
particular song. From
the poetic romance of 4th
of July to
its darker, flip side, Wendy and Adam present the
romantically cautious Don’t
Want To Be Wrong Again, a jazz-rock romp written by Adam
with Canadian writer Anne Ptasznik, with a hint of Anita
Baker and Burt Bacharach and more rich vocal harmonies.
That’s followed by another “wishing” song, Imagine.
Here, John Lennon’s peace anthem gets the full, Wendy
Boulding treatment (by way of Randy Crawford), rendering it
one of Wendy’s most passionate performances in the show (or
Getting away from that
glossy idealism, they follow it with the bitter realism of Ivory
Tower, Adam’s percussive, swinging jazz shuffle
reminiscent of Steely Dan, and a cluster-vocal showcase.
In further contrast, Wendy takes on singers Peter Gabriel
and Kate Bush in Gabriel’s classic Don’t
Give Up, a melancholy but encouraging portrayal of
family survival in the face of unemployment and
homelessness. During it, Adam stands in for his
“cousin” Tony Levin on roving bass (as well as pad
synthesizer), and Wendy rises to the occasion by delivering
a powerful gospel-style performance on both piano and lead
Reflecting a happier
time and place, Wendy and Adam next perform the novelty item
of the show, Penny
Lane, from the Beatles’ ambitious “Sgt. Pepper” period.
In the tradition of Beatles tribute (impersonation) bands
like Fab Faux and Strawberry Fields, Wendy and Adam pull out
their keyboard chops and deliver a fun and impeccably
faithful representation of the song’s originally recorded
instrumentation and arrangement, right down to the piccolo
trumpet solo (ala Wendy.)
Getting back to Planet
Boulding-Levin, Wendy takes the vocal reigns once more with Feeling
What I Feel, the perennial R&B pop ballad written by
Adam with Peter Stoller, now enhanced with full, live
production. From vintage to “virgin” material, Wendy
and Adam get political again with the new, poignant Land
of the Free. It’s Adam’s poetic answer to Imagine –
as well as a veiled, post-election lament and rallying cry
that’s ultimately hopeful, even optimistic. However
stirring or eloquent the song might be, Wendy’s yearning
vocal embellishments really say it all.
Bringing us full
circle and back home, the set closes with Wendy’s song Feathers
Everywhere, an affirming, spiritual tale – and with a
surprise ending that is as tongue-in-cheek as the music is
“aurally delicious”, as one listener described it.
Does it get any better?
Well, maybe. As
a “bonus”, Wendy and Adam indulge the house in a game of
“Stump the Band”, spontaneously breaking into
audience-requested songs, including ones that neither of
them have ever performed (but, hopefully, have heard).
This weekly ritual confirms the impression that there isn’t
a song that Wendy hasn't heard or is unwilling to sing or
play (and even dance to) at least once. And sometimes
the audience even joins in. Why was ear training never
this much fun back at the conservatory?
And in case anyone doesn't want to leave, Wendy occasionally
winds the audience down by gracing them with some of her
earlier originals like Sparkles, Mr.
Capricorn Moon, I
Wished for Snow, or Don't
Make My Heart Afraid to Dream. We'll try not
to. There's even the "obligatory" Coffee
Boy, a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of coffee-making
at coffeehouses. If we can't hear it there,
where can we?
So come and decide for
yourself whether accessible music can be intelligent. And
whether intelligent music can be passionate. Or just get
coffee. Where's Leonard Bernstein when we need him?
-- Rob Myman