Last night I realized – it is my life’s mission to never want to miss a Brandi Carlile show again.
As a broke musician I don’t often get to see shows that I’m not also performing in, the wonderful exception being when someone else floats the cash for my ticket. I was beside myself when I found out that Country Queer publisher Dale Geist wanted to make Brandi’s Berkeley show at the Greek Theater a team outing to celebrate our relaunch.
First things first – the Greek Theater is an amazing place to see shows. Carved into a stadium style hill with General Admission lawn seating at the top, and concrete benches for the majority of the assigned seats, there isn’t a bad sight line in the house. It was a hot day for the Bay Area which meant a perfectly mild night. The fog didn’t roll in. The temperature stayed around 68-70 degrees and the whole crowd felt friendly, excited, and buzzing with energy.
Lucius was the opening band and swaggered onto the stage in a whirlwind of sequins and charm. Lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig stepped up to sing their exquisite girl-group / soul infused harmonies into a single mic and immediately won the crowd over with their dramatic and intoxicating indie pop. The seats around us were full of people singing along, standing to shout their approval, and wearing that look of ‘I just heard the best new band.’ The good vibes in this 5800 seat house could not have been stronger.
In between sets the crowd buzz continued ramping up as fans sung along to a playlist filled with the Indigo Girls, Joan Jett, Lizzo, Heart and more. The pro-woman vibe was strong in the house and the crowd was living for it.
When the lights went down and the band came on stage it was electric. Standing ovations for the Twins spread through the venue and when Brandi entered almost every person at this sold out show was on their feet. From the first riff to the last note Carlile charmed the crowd into dancing, laughing, singing along, and more than a few tears were shed.
She absolutely slayed with powerful versions of her classics like Hold Out Your Hand, Evangeline, The Joke, and Fulton County Jane Doe – every song just leaving every bit of blood, sweat, and guts onstage. Her voice was a visceral and strong emotional arrow directly into the soul.
Carlile is a consummate storyteller, not just in her lyrics, but between songs. Her banter was warm, spontaneous, and conversational, and beautifully set up the songs to follow. As an introduction to “Evangeline”, she mentioned her wife and children, and made a point of saying how strongly she felt about being able to talk about her family, and have that be a normal thing. (Naturally, we find this irresistible.)
While talking about her special ties to the Bay Area, she talked about when she and the “Handsome Hanseroth Twins” got in their old Ford Econoline Van in the late 90’s and played San Francisco for the first time at Cafe Du Nord for 70 people. Then she dedicated her song “The Story” to the crowd.
She also told the story of going from being the “World’s Biggest Joni Mitchell Fan” to having been at Joni’s house the night before.
This led into one of the night’s iconic covers when she road tested the Joni Mitchell song ‘Case of You’ to help dispell her nerves for her upcoming Los Angeles shows playing the entirety of Mitchell’s Blue album. Well friends – if that is what nerves sound like – sign me up. Carlile’s voice was otherworldly and intimate at the same time. A spell was cast over all of us – completely present in the moment and she had every heart in the audience completely in her hand.
The magic only continued as she nailed ‘Madman Across the Water’ from Elton John.
Later in the set she set the room on fire when she brought Lucius back onstage to cover ‘Alone’ from Heart – with everyone going wild for it from the third word of the song.
She ended her set on piano with a heart touching and emotional version of ‘I Belong to You’ changing some of the lyrics at the end to ‘I belong to you California.’
As the lights came up and we all shuffled out of the theater, I overheard dozens and dozens of people talking about how amazing the show was, how important to them, how it was one of the best performances they had ever seen.
Brandi Carlile isn’t just an incredibly important talent, she isn’t just a crucial voice right now in American culture and music, she is that unique performer who in telling her truths and stories lifts all of us up and helps make it better. She is a treasure. An icon in the making. A legend. And an artist that gives 110% of everything for you onstage. A performer you should add to your bucket list right mother-truckin now.
You can find her tour dates for the rest of the year here: http://www.brandicarlile.com/tour