Kiki triumphs at Frazer Theatre

Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri.
Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri.
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Review by Mike Atkinson

Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri, Frazer Theatre, Knaresborough

Internationally successful chart-toppers aren’t always queuing up to perform in Knaresborough.

But although it’s a long way from Madison Square Garden and Live Aid to the 130-capacity Frazer Theatre, Kiki Dee and her long-standing musical partner Carmelo Luggeri have grown fond of the venue; by their reckoning, this is their third visit.

“There’s a warm atmosphere here, isn’t there?”, Kiki remarks. “That’s because we can’t turn the heating off,” someone calls back.

At this stage in her career, with more than 50 years in the business behind her, Kiki could be playing it safe on the concert hall circuit: all the hits as we remember them, safe cover versions, maybe a Classic Love Songs collection or two, surrendering artistic evolution for heritage act comfort.

But that’s just not her style.

Instead, over the course of two sets that span a full three hours, Kiki and Carmelo take us on an “acoustic journey”, twisting old favourites into startling new shapes, and showcasing an undimmed talent for thoughtful songcraft and musical invention.

Of the old favourites, none is twisted further than Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. No longer the playfully light-hearted duet of old, it re-emerges, with subtly altered lyrics and melody, as a pleading, touching torch song.

This adventurous approach infects the covers, too. Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill becomes an episodic epic, climaxing with a stunning guitar coda from Carmelo, whose multi-layered, echo-drenched arrangement brings John Martyn to mind.

As for the newer material, drawn from the duo’s three studio albums, influences range from Indian raga drones to swampy bottleneck blues.

While Carmelo dazzles on his fretboard and effects pedals, Kiki adds ambient keyboard textures, fleshing out the sound.

Amen and Goodbye, a song about rejecting false prophets, segues into She’s Smiling Now, which describes the fulfilment and freedom that Kiki’s mother discovered in her later years.

A couple of weeks ago, the duo were surprised to find Robert Plant in their audience.

After the show, they discussed the difficulties faced by older artists who still strive to push forwards with their music. (“In America, Led Zeppelin tribute acts get bigger crowds than I do”, Robert confessed.)

On the evidence of this bold, spellbinding and warmly received show, it’s clear that Kiki and Carmelo have chosen the right path. They can come back as often as they like.