2.4.10 BRANDI CARLILE
This article originally appeared in the 2.11.10 issue of Metroland
February 4, 2010
Out of the many friends I told I was seeing Brandi Carlile, exactly one knew anything about her. Until recently, I’d only seen her name here and there, and for some reason assumed she was one of these Disney cookie-cutter “pop stars” that fall out of the television every week or so. Then I caught her on a rerun of a 2008 Jules Holland show. She started quietly playing her signature song “The Story.” First I thought “wow, good song.” Then “geez, great voice.” Then, three bars into the second verse, her band just lands with a grunge hammer, and Carlile jumps an octave and starts wailing over the top. I was totally in the tank.
Her show last week was a tour de force, starting with Carlile and her four band members singing the Beatle-esqe lullaby “Oh Dear” around one microphone center stage, continuing for 90 minutes of brilliantly crafted and stylistically diverse songs, wrapped around Carlile’s huge and rangy and majestic voice and her absolutely deadly band. Most of the material came from her two most recent albums 2007’s “The Story” (produced by T. Bone Burnett) and last year’s “Give Up the Ghost” (produced by Rick Rubin).
Carlile’s a tiny little thing, I can’t imagine she weighs more than 100 pounds, but she effortlessly commands attention, even while she’s bookended by her two long-time collaborators, the tall and lanky identical twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who play guitar and bass and who themselves have a matching repertoire of rock-star moves. Yeah, the band is something to see, too.
The encore was as goofy and talent show-y as the main body of the show was tight and galvanizing, hysterically hitting on Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and “Folsom County Blues”, Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and Loretta Lynn’s “Stand By Your Man.” The twins came out and sang “Sounds of Silence” with their identical voices, prompting Carlile to quip “Have you ever heard anything so wonderful and weird and creepy in your whole life ?” Then the band blazed through the elegant “Pride and Joy” and then it was over.
It’s a testament to the fracturing of any kind of shared musical experience and the fall of radio as a mass taste-maker that someone so hugely talented and so immensely satisfying could evade the purview of me and virtually everybody I know for so long. This was a show that will haunt me for a long time.