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Review: Brandi Carlile

I was late to the Brandi Carlile train, having first discovering her on the Amy Ray single, “I Didn’t” from the album Lung of Love in 2012. You can say I have been smitten ever since. Carlile’s music can’t really be pigeon holed into a genre. While it could fit into a number of categories, she has been known to say, "I've gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B, but no matter what I do, I just can't get the country and western out of my voice."

Carlile’s latest album, By The Way, I Forgive You has landed her with the most commercial success of her career thus far. Leading up to the release of this album, she posted an open letter on Facebook to the Baptist pastor who refused to baptize her because of her sexuality when she was 15. She forgave him. The album not only speaks of forgiveness, but also of family, politics, the opioid epidemic, and the global migration crisis. As a whole, the album is heart wrenching, playful, elegant, emotional, and in my opinion, a masterpiece. 

Suffice to say, I was pretty excited to see Brandi Carlile for my first time. Even more so excited that she was playing at one of the most beautiful venues in Cincinnati, The Taft Theatre. 

Katie Herzig and her band opened up the night with a handful of tunes to an enthusiastic crowd. The highlight was “Moment of Bliss” off her album of the same name. Katie dedicated it to the people of Cincinnati in the light of the shooting last Thursday, the song covers loss and was a touching moment. Every song that Herzig played seemed linked to a part of her life and her band felt those moments with her. 

As the stage went dark the anticipation was high for Carlile to pop on stage. Much to our surprise the lights gravitated towards the empty “muppet seats” on stage left. Carlile with her longtime bandmates, the Hanserothtwins were joined by an old-fashioned microphone and serenaded us with, “Beginning to Feel the Years.” The entire audience was up on their feet with excitement. I have seen many, many shows at The Taft Theatre and never have I witnessed that before, it was truly special.

The trio ran back down to the stage and continued to keep the crowd on their feet for the foot stompin’ “Follow,” “The Things I Regret,” and even for “Fulton County Jane Doe,” a tune that came out of the desire to honor a real woman whose body had gone unidentified and unclaimed for 30 years in Georgia. 

Before playing “The Mother,” Carlile relayed the lead-up to and aftermath of the birth of her first child, and how completely unprepared she felt for every moment along the way, even though “I’m gay, there’s no excuse. It was no surprise.” Talking about her initially emotionless response to her wife giving birth, and how she was “Googling sociopath in the delivery room,” Carlile added that “people need to be more honest” about their emotions, or lack of them, as new parents. And, “I feel like it’s important, to stand up in front of you and talk about my family.” 

Carlile and “the twins” decided to test out the acoustics in the grand Taft Theatre by stepping out in front of the microphones and singing, “Cannonball” at the front of the stage without any amplification. You could hear a pin drop and they were clearly audible even at the back of the theatre. The performance exemplified the vocal feats Carlile displayed with extraordinary regularity during the concert.

The epic ballad of, “Party of One” was explained by Carlile as, “if you ever want to know what would happen if you had a catastrophic fight with your spouse and then you stayed up all night getting drunk and listening to Joni Mitchell.” 

Seeing Brandi Carlile live was an experience I will not soon forget. I knew I was in for something special but was not prepared for the range of emotions throughout the evening. Carlile’s cathedral sized voice with hints of subtle country and western accents filled up the beautiful Taft Theatre and the entire audience was in the palm of her hand for the entire evening.

Setlist:

Beginning to Feel the Years

Follow

The Things I Regret

Raise Hell

Fulton County Jane Doe

The Eye

The Mother

The Joke

Wherever Is Your Heart

Cannonball

Every Time I Hear That Song

Sugartooth

The Story

Pride and Joy

Wish You Well (Katie Herzig cover, with Katie Herzig)

Whatever You Do

Party of One

Encore:

Hold Out Your Hand

Going to California (Led Zeppelin cover)

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