photos by Jeff O'Kelley
Brandi Carlile was signed to Columbia records at age 23 and has been on the road non-stop. Her third and most recent album, Give Up the Ghost, was produced by Rick Rubin and features an appearance by Elton John. Carlile's repertoire is a mash-up of country, pop, folk and indie rock. It displays the kind of craftsmanship that should force lesser artists, like Carrie Underwood, into early retirement. But it's her voice that seals the deal. Carlile is capable of incredible vocal range, from a guttural and deliberate baritone to a smoky, haunting falsetto, and it's the traversing of the two that lands a hook squarely in your chest.
Last night, Carlile kicked off the "Give Up the Ghost Traveling Show" (her first headlining tour of Florida) to a sold-out crowd at Clearwater's Capitol Theater. And the crowd had been waiting.
Several times, to standing ovations and raucous applause, Carlile was genuinely blissed-out and smiling, repeatedly thanking the crowd and telling them how "amazing" they were.
At the end of the night, however, it was Brandi who proved to be amazing.
Carlile is a consummate performer, alternately taking turns at acoustic and electric guitar, piano, and barber shop a capella, occasionally putting the guitar aside to lead the band in a spirited connection with the front row and beyond. But it's when she's holding her acoustic guitar that she truly commands the room head thrown back, twirling and stomping and cracking her guitar cable against the stage like a crazed honky-tonk matador.
Although the spotlight is often squarely on Brandi (she took a lone bow on an empty stage at show's end), she is clearly and publicly grateful to her solid backing band, introducing them often. Her group which supports and steers her through delicate five-part harmonies and explosive, arena-rock endings is led by Phil and Tim Hanselroth (lovingly referred to as "The Twins") on guitar and bass respectively, and also features Josh Neumann on cello and piano, and Allison Miller on drums.
The edginess of Carlile's melodies and arrangements is informed by modern, progressive rock groups like Muse and Radiohead, but her country influences remain undeniable. Dripping with sweat and nose to nose at a microphone with the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray (who provided opening support), she cranked out a duet over solo mandolin that had all the blue-hairs (young and old) on their feet, gleefully stomping and clapping.
If we had been in a barn, it would've been on fire.
Oh Dear (a capella)
Looking Out (with Amy Ray)
Late Morning Lullaby
Unplugged/"Living Room" set:
Calling All Angels (with Tiffany Carlile)
The Times They Are A-Changin' (Bob Dylan)
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
Unknown Duet (with Amy Ray)
Pride and Joy
Follow Joran on Twitter @joranslane
Read Jeff O'Kelley's Interview with Brandi here.