Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

Brandi in Portland, Maine: Great Things Come In Threes

Brandi Carlile at Thompson’s Point 8/27/21

By Dale Henry Geist

Some 5,000 people showed up on a late-summer Maine evening by the waterside to take in a long-awaited dose of live music, and from what I could see, they were all having a hell of a time. But one person seemed positively giddy with joy: Brandi Carlile herself.

She took the stage flanked by her longtime musical companions, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, aka The Twins, on acoustic bass guitar and and acoustic guitar respectively. After coming to the lip of the stage to execute a deep bow to the enraptured crowd, Carlile took to the mic. “I feel like a million bucks!,” she said with a grin. The audience roared in appreciation, having waited a week beyond the original show date, which was postponed at the last minute due to a sudden bout of illness on the part of the star.

Here we were, finally.

Carlile opened with “Dying Day,” a complaint about how touring takes her away from her beloved, which seems like an unusual choice, but when we heard the refrain, “How I miss you and I just want to kiss you,” we just figured it was about us. Without missing a beat, the band went into The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” an innocent love song that Carlile turned into a subtle statement by leaving the original pronouns intact.

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Brandi Carlile and The Twins, Thompson’s Point. Photo by Dale Henry Geist

What the smaller acoustic format lacked in sonic impact it made up in flexibility and intimacy. She continued her opening volley of love songs with “Closer To You,” lamenting once again the separation of being on the road, only beginning to depart from that theme in the dynamic “The Things I Regret” (though with a bridge of “Lonely miles / Without you,” the theme wasn’t entirely absent.)

Carlile told a little story to introduce each song, early on declaring her faith in the healing power of live music: “This is actual therapy for me,” she said. Her relaxed banter throughout the evening made it clear she was having the time of her life up there. She took a few steps back to the upright piano to play “The Story”, its flawless structure sounding as fresh as the day I first heard it. Afterwards, Carlile noted how much she still loved playing it – calling it her signature song despite the fact that it was “never really much of a hit.” 

Brandi Carlile at Thompson’s Point. Photo by Dale Henry Geist.

Carlile noted that she’d been playing with The Twins for over 15 years: it showed in the bone-deep synchrony of their sound, paired with their loose onstage vibe during “The Eye,” from the seminal 2015 album “The Firewatcher’s Daughter.” She used her introduction to “The Mother” to rave about the artistic abilities of her youngest daughter, Elijah (three years old), and actually interrupted the beginning of the song to tell a story about how her wife Catherine brought home some Himalayan salt lamps (“Because she’s a fucking hippie”) that Carlile tried to replace with some she thought were better suited to grown-ups, and…I can’t remember the punch line, but you get the general vibe of the evening. It was exhilarating.

She told a story about Joshua Tree – first, the album, which she listened to voraciously in her late teens – and then the national park in California, where she recently shot the cover to her unreleased album. Declaring the lyrics to “My Song” “terrible,” Carlile admitted, “That’s what being an artist is all about – standing behind your bad teenage poetry for the rest of your life.” “My Song,” rather incredibly, featured a detour into the U2 classic “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Afterwards, Carlile mentioned her upcoming Carnegie Hall concert where she’ll play through Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album. She said that during the writing of her new album she was aware she’d be inescapably influenced by Mitchell, so she consciously decided to make one song as Mitchell-esque as possible, “to get it all out.” The result was “You and Me on the Rock,” which did indeed sound like a “Blue” outtake. Then she sailed into the Mitchell classic “Carey,” with elaborate backing vocals from the Hanseroth twins.

Brandi Carlile and Phil Hanseroth at Thompson’s Point. Photo by Dale Henry Geist.

“Cannonball” was next, with The Twins taking the close harmonies originated on record by the Indigo Girls. This set up Carlile’s new song, “Right On Time,” a stunner that she performed at the piano.

Carlile’s trust in the audience was thorough: she divided us into three sections and quickly taught us the harmony parts for “Turpentine.” When the song was over, she seemed genuinely moved. “That was the most beautiful I’ve ever heard that,” she told us. I believed her. This was followed by the rock’n’roll of “Raise Hell”, before Carlile introduced the opener, Lucie Silvas, a Nashville veteran hailing from New Zealand by way of the UK (this all made for a charming accent.) They duetted on the gorgeous Silvas song, “We’re Living”.

Then it was “The Joke.” Carlile’s voice, now thoroughly warmed up, was powerful and supple, rising to vertiginous heights. Afterward she admitted that she doesn’t always reach for that last high note because she doesn’t always nail it, but tonight she felt inspired. (She crushed it.)

Brandi Carlile at Thompson’s Point. Photo by Dale Henry Geist.

The final song in the set was “Pride and Joy,” which felt like a retrenchment after the energy created by “The Joke.” But the pause before the encore was brief, then Carlile took her seat at the piano, emotional in her assurance that “I will never take this for granted. As long as I live.” She felt her way into “Party of One,” an agonizing zigzag through the trials of a tough relationship moment that ultimately resolves into the exhausted, hopeful refrain “I am yours, I am yours,” repeated over and over.

The evening closed with the benediction of “This Time Tomorrow,” from her upcoming album, “In These Silent Days.”: “I may not be around this time tomorrow / But I’ll always be with you.” Carlile and The Twins left us with that parting gift: we got to take that blessing home with us.