October 14, 2009
Today my students asked for music as they worked, and I put in the new Brandi Carlile CD. Not halfway through the first song, one of them pleaded, “Turn it off!” I was a little disappointed that they didn’t like it, but then he said, very sincerely, “It’s so sad. It’s going to make me cry.”
I appreciate the sentiment, but with the heart-breaking quality of some of Brandi Carlile’s songs, there is also a haunting beauty, and her new album has been on repeat in my car, my house, and my head since we went to see her in concert last week.
We were a little hesitant to see her at the 930 Club after her intimate acoustic show at the Birchmere in March. But the price was right (just $27 each), and she played an early show, so we let go of our reluctance surrounding the venue.
We arrived at the perfect time – moments before Brandi and the band came out to sing an acoustic version of Oh Dear. If we had been secretly afraid that the show would be too like the performance at the Birchmere (afraid of a repeat of an amazing show?), those fears were quickly assuaged. Brandi’s banter with the crowd is just effortless (and it’s easy to pretend it’s not rehearsed, though you know that any artist must repeat the same jokes night after night), and two of the only songs that seemed like repetition were a Turpentine sing-along and the unplugged version of Dying Day (which I could listen to endlessly all the same).
Brandi regaled us with stories. My favorite was the opportunity she had to record Caroline on her new album with Elton John. She said to the crowd, “When you meet your hero, you think you’re going to be awesome, but you’re not.” The whole way to meet him, she was wondering what he would be wearing, and he did not disappoint, showing up in hot pink sunglasses. And then - how to tell it as well as she did? – when it was time to start recording the song, he took out a case, and she froze, thinking, “This is the stuff that no one sees! He’s going to put on the glasses he needs to SEE!” And Elton John opens that case and takes out a pair of prescription hot-pink glasses.
After playing The Story, Brandi Carlile and the twins and Josh and their new drummer all came back out to play an encore – and never stopped! Okay, I exaggerate, but their encore was at least five, if not six songs. Brandi played Folsom Prison Blues for us again, but led into it with Jackson, which I already couldn’t get out of my head before the show! (Brandi Carlile, you’re in my head!) And we had a real treat when Katie Herzig and her band came out to play Wish You Well with Brandi Carlile’s crew. She finished with That Year, saying it would likely be her next single. Of the new album, I have several new favorites: notably, Before It Breaks, I Will, and If There Was No You. It’s just too bad I can’t play it for my fifth graders anymore (without tears, that is).
I look forward to the day when I can go to work in a pair of boots and a Boy Scout shirt, but until then, I’m going to take every chance I get to watch Brandi Carlile doing it.
March 28, 2009
I’m having trouble writing about Brandi Carlile’s Thursday night show at the Birchmere because I can’t quite figure out which words to use to make you feel the energy and awe like I did. I bought the tickets as a birthday present for Allen, and we were both looking forward to it, but neither of us anticipated just how good it would be.
However good Brandi sounds on her albums, she’s unreal in person. Her voice is uniquely rich and deep but so natural at the same time that you’re not sure how she – or anyone – can be producing a sound like that. But lest you let the microphones and the showmanship fool you into thinking that somehow it’s just an elaborate illusion, Brandi also stepped out from behind the mic and sang one of the songs from her new album unplugged. (So then you just know that you can’t believe your ears or your eyes.)
Every bit of the show was a treat. Gregory Alan Isakov opened, and about four songs in, he asked Brandi Carlile to join him on stage. You’re sitting there thinking, “This guy is pretty good. He’s got a good voice.” Then Brandi Carlile opens her mouth to sing along with him, and you’re blown away. All the while, she’s chatting with the audience about how much she loves Gregory Alan Isakov’s music, and he’s making charmingly nervous self-deprecating jokes about pleading to be taken along on tour. Their interactions with each other and the audience were refreshingly normal.
When Brandi Carlile came back out with her band – the twins managing to look cute and tough at the same time with their matching hats and their tattoos on lean arms – she led the audience along with her easy conversation and her powerful singing. She regaled us with several songs from her upcoming album (which I am itching for now) and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the band’s relationship.
At one point she told a story about taping the new album, where the twins had to sing into the same mic about an inch from each other, and they alternated cussing each other out and singing angelically. Then one of the engineers said, “Those ladies are so good!” Then they all started the song, and as the twins began to sing their part, people in the audience started to laugh, and then more people started to laugh, until Brandi herself started laughing and had to stop singing.
They wrapped up the show with a rousing rendition of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison, and followed it up with a double encore – one song with the band, and one with just Brandi.
I think Allen liked his birthday present.