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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Finally On the Stage That Suits Her, Brandi Carlile at The Wellmont

Brandi Carlile, 7.31.12 Wellmont Theatre, Montclair

A few songs into last night's well attended concert at Montclair's Wellmont Theatre, the diminutive singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile recounted how she got her start as an opening act for artists like Ray LaMontagne  and Tori Amos.  She said it was great to share the stage with them, but when she was done it was "like, 6pm."   The sun was still shining.  And it wasn't easy playing in that blistering sun.  One day, she hoped, she would play when the sun goes down.  You know, the "mystical" time when the lights go down, smoke fills the stage and the crowd goes wild.

Ms. Carlile will never be an opening act again.  In fact, there is no telling what her future holds and what venues she can play.  Arenas?  Stadiums?  Ok, that might be pushing it.  But make no mistake, this little firecracker from the Pacific Northwest is a genuine force on stage.  And that voice?  It's a pure natural wonder.

Out promoting her 4th LP, Bear Creek, Carlile, opened the set with that album's first track, "Hard Way Home."  It is a toe tapping diddy show that was quick to engage the enthusiastic crowd.  She was joined, like she has been for the past 10 years, with identical twins and key collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth.  Picture fedora wearing giants flanking a tiny, but kick ass pixie.  It looks odd...  but sounds so right.

Big, bruising guitars and bass lines joined with mandolins, violins, and that voice.  Oh, was the voice mentioned before?

Well, it soars.  And she knows it.  Who else can cover Freddie Mercury "Bohemian Rhapsody" from last night's show. and Paul McCartney/Beatles "Oh Darling" and make it look so effortless?  This is a confident performer, unafraid to take a chance.

It's one thing to have the damn gift that pours from her mouth reciting the wonderful story songs she pens.  Add the boundless energy and joy she brings to the live event and you have got yourself something special.

And sure, there are obvious comparisons that come to mind.  Bonnie Raitt meets Melissa Etheridge.  Shawn Colvin meets Sheryl Crow.  Ingrid Michaelson meets Miranda Lambert.

Leave that nonsense to other folks.

Brandi Carlile is an American original.  Is it a hootenanny?  A lesbian convention?  Rock show?  Pop show?  Alt show?


Early on in the set she expressed her appreciation to the crowd, and explained how they too were part of the night's proceedings.  Then she and her mates dismissed the microphones and amps and played a song acapella.  It was sweet, sincere and downright moving.  She was sure to reach the rafters with her angelic voice and did it all with a smile on her face.

Much like the smile she put on the faces of all those witness to her performance.

She hits the road for more shows and this column urges you to take a look.  For more:

Highlights from last night include, but are not limited to:

"The Story"  Her signature song.  An epic track and haunting tale of love and yearning.  She could have rode into the sunset after writing this and still be considered legendary.  As timely today as it was when it was written several years ago.  Brilliant.

"Raise Hell"  From the new record, and here live from the studio where she recorded it.  This is a country song, and a good one.  Sweet violin work!

"Dreams"  The group played a nice instrumental interlude between choruses on this one.  More toe tapping goodness that will certainly get you humming along.

It is easy to understand why she dropped out of high school and followed her passion at 16.  That is precisely what someone this talented should do.  It is why athletes turn pro as early as they can.  You can count on one hand folks with talent like Brandi Carlile.  Because she is also wise beyond her years, at age 30 she has a catalog of gems to choose from...  and, we can all hope, many more to come.

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