Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mini Review: Brandi Carlile at Knight Theater

The first time I saw singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile I only caught her last three songs. I could have kicked myself because those last three songs were amazing thanks to her incredible, crystalline alto. Since then I've tried to catch her whenever she's around. She's played McGlohon Theatre a few times before, but her solo acoustic show Friday, November 11, had to be moved to the larger Knight Theater a few blocks away. The show sold out there too. She seemed genuinely surprised and moved at the turnout and mentioned it throughout the night.

After witnessing several smaller poorly attended club shows lately, it's nice to see a young solo female artist without a current hit (her last studio album was released in 2009) that can draw so well especially given the current economy. Plus this wasn't a flashy pop tour. Both she and opening act the Secret Sisters played songs in their purist, acoustic form.

Wearing velvety-looking brown leggings, leather boots, a black, fitted western-style shirt and cream scarf, Carlilie knocked out three-in -a-row with "Follow" (which opened her 2005 debut album), the catchy "Dreams" (I don't know if this was actually a hit, but it is at my house), and "Throw It All Away" (which is probably my very favorite of her songs). She followed that triple threat with the stirring "Before It Breaks" on piano.

Between Carlile and the Secret Sisters the crowd was treated to several covers. She and the sisters both took on Patsy Cline. They ended the show together performing "Amazing Grace" a cappella and without mics in the dark at the foot of the stage.

Both acts were warm and talkative, sharing stories behind the songs which added to the loose, intimate feel. I did miss Carlile's band, twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth who have such personality and rapport with her on stage. She reported that Phil, who married her sister Tiffany, is expecting a baby. She also played a song that Tim wrote called "Keep Your Heart Young." With lines about a Tic Tac box and rock filled snowballs, it got laughs from the crowd. Hearing those unreleased songs was one of the biggest treats of the show. She and the sisters performed a new gospel-tinged song called "Raise Hell," which was like Carlile's version of a Johnny Cash stomper. She said it was her favorite song she'd ever written.

"The Story" ended the regular set, but she returned for "Cannonball" (pictured) and "Pride and Joy" before the sister-aided "Grace." If you're a fan of classic country and folk, the harmony-driven Secret Sisters are one to watch. Although the girls covered several other artists (Hank Williams, Skeeter Davis, etc.), the Muscle Shoals duo's originals captured the essence of the era they pay tribute to as well. They also exhibited an interesting juxtaposition of personalities on stage. One sister was chatty and funny, while the other played it shy and quiet.

They ended their portion by adding that three years ago they were sitting in the audience watching Carlile and even stood outside her bus in the cold to get a photo with her - another reminder of the night's girl power theme.

There were a couple Carlile tracks I missed ("Late Morning Lullaby" and "Dying Day" for instance) and I hoped we'd be treated to the duet she did with local singer-songwriter Jason Scavone who opened for her at McGlohon. Their song is only available on a Starbucks Valentine's Day compilation (and I can't find it on iTunes) so I was anxious to hear it again. But that's a tiny, I suppose, rather random request during a night filled with plenty of great music.

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