Brandi Carlile has a family—wife, two kids….
But she's also got a family of musicians she creates and performs, and an extended family of fans—her Bramily, if you will. Once you’re part of the team, that’s it. You’re in for life. This attitude was on display last night at the State Theatre during a big, bold, almost two-hour hug of a show.
Alabama duo the Secret Sisters opened the evening, with Laura and Lydia Rogers offering sweet harmony and a near stand-up level of conversational comedy. They introduced the stone-cold serious “Mississippi” by riffing hilariously about wanting to write more murder ballads, and afterward Laura quipped “I’d like to murder the person who invented pantyhose.”
They also love Graham Nash. A lot. Before performing “Wasted on the Way,” happily married Laura shared her amorous feelings toward the 76-year-old British singer with the audience.
The sold-out crowd fully warmed up, the Brandi Carlile family came onstage to the swelling sounds of a string quartet playing a snippet of 2015’s “Wherever is Your Heart.” Carlile’s fans are passionate about her, and the miniature State Theatre seats (people were smaller years ago, right?) were not destined to contain most of them.
Decked out in a festive floral-themed blazer and red ruffled top, Carlile opened with this year’s elegant “Every Time I Hear that Song.” Then Carlile and band foot-stomped into the appropriately titled “Raise Hell” with a wild abandon.
For any other band, the raucous track would have been a closing number. It was Carlile’s second song.
“I feel like I am home here,” she said. “This is my favorite time of the year to be here.” Carlile then talked about how three-part harmony wasn’t really a “thing” in the ’90s in her Seattle hometown, but that she and “the twins”—bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth—were going to perform a song “in their native tongue.”
“The Eye” was a celebration of openness and perfect harmony, and Carlile’s psychic connection to her twins cannot be overstated. They act as one person with three voices, as natural and unstoppable as lava from Kilauea.
Introducing “The Mother,” the singer talked about how her daughter is growing up—and growing sassier. “It’s about my Evangeline, but it can be about yours, too,” she said. This honesty about motherhood was refreshing, and segued perfectly into the powerful and dramatic “The Joke.”
I’m not saying Brandi Carlile invented the emotional voice crack, but she certainly perfected it, and not in a false, saccharine way. The words flow out of her, and it is all emotion. It is her natural state, and it is something to behold.
“Mainstream Kid” is a four-minute master class in how rock and roll should be performed. Seriously. This track is up there with anything by the Rolling Stones, Ramones, or the Replacements. From the strutting extended beginning through the gritty shredding at the end, it was a loose bolt rattling on the barely contained rock and rollercoaster.
“Fulton County Jane Doe” tells the story of an unidentified dead body, but Carlile does not let her life end without a funeral. “You may not have a name, but you’re going to have a song.”
The singer performed two covers in the dash to the end of the set: Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” performed solo, and Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” with Carlile on piano. And then “The Story” was a soaring emotional centerpiece, full of explosions and aftershocks that brought the crowd to their feet.
There wasn’t an encore, per se. Instead the band just continued. Carlile appeared in the balcony box seats with the twins for a stripped down take on the Firewatcher’s Daughter track “Beginning to Feel the Years.”
Then the Secret Sisters and everyone else met Carlile and the Hanseroths back on stage for the explosive “Hold Out Your Hand,” from this year’s By The Way, I Forgive You. The singer made good on her earlier promised to put on a Santa hat as she and the band shouted “Ba da da, ba da da, ba da da” along with the euphoric audience.
The band filed off stage, but the Secret Sisters remained with Carlile for a stirring, a capella version of “Amazing Grace,” sending the happy crowd off into night as new members of her family.
Post script: If you didn’t score tickets to Brandi Carlile’s three night sold out run at the State, you can listen to tonight’s show on the Current.
Every Time I Hear that Song
Hard to Forgive
Have You Ever
Fulton County Jane Doe
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell cover)
Madman Across the Water (Elton John cover)
Whatever You Do
Party of One
Beginning to Feel the Years
Hold Out Your Hand
The crowd: #TheFutureIsFemale
Overheard in the crowd: “I’m getting kicked out because I fell down the stairs?!” asked the super-drunk guy.
Random notebook dump: Does Brandi Carlile DJ her own pre/post set music? Cher, Heart, Joan Jett, L7, and Dolly Parton—it’s the musical milkshake that makes up Carlile herself.