A Day at the ZooThis time, the folks at Columbia Records granted me all-access passes, which afforded me the opportunity to skip the line and sit front and center. Which, for all of you who always wish you could sit front and center for a show, is a very awkward place to be. It's the job of the audience to sit and stare, but doing so within feet of the performer feels very bizarre. Maybe it's because I'm a performer myself, or maybe it's just that I felt a little bit like a zoo visitor staring at the reptile cage, waiting for one of them to make a move or hiss at me.
Fairly early on in the set, a crew of young pre-tween girls came and sat in front of us, offering a bit of a buffer from the awkwardness. They were adorable and it made the performer side of me smile to see someone like Brandi Carlile attracting little girls who, no doubt, are inspired by her presence. She tossed a couple of guitar pics to them, they were so excited.
Seasoned ProCarlile has been at it for years. There aren't a lot of local venues for acoustic artists, but she played every single one of them relentlessly until eventually being discovered by Columbia Records. Now that she's a big, famous nationally touring artist, she can pretty much play once a week in Seattle and have a sold-out audience wherever she goes, if she wanted. In fact, just three weeks ago, she played to a packed house at the Paramount Theater. Now, she was coming back to play an outdoor concert at Woodland Park Zoo.
"You know," she explained from the stage, "we play all these stages and there's a [coolness to knowing that] this is a stage where Bob Dylan played. But here [at the zoo], it's like, this is the stage where they release the eagles." Carlile notes she's been coming to the zoo since she was two years old, and the crowd eats up the local sentimentality.
Benefits of Sitting Up CloseAs if they could get any tighter between the listening party for The Story back in March, the band is incredibly tight. Drummer Mike Nistor plays a steady pumping rhythm while cellist Josh Neumann saws the crowd to tears on numbers like "Downpour." We're close enough that twin Tim Hanseroth's "guitar face" is endlessly entertaining.
Another benefit of being so close to the stage is picking up on the nuances of acoustic instruments that never quite translate well through large amplifiers. There's a buzz and hiss to acoustic guitar strings and the wood on the instrument’s body, and being able to watch and hear how Carlile and company work those nuances only solidified my suspicion that they’re hardly a flash-in-the-pan operation.
HighlightsPulling from both of their infectious releases (2005’s self-titled Brandi Carlile and this year's The Story), the band moves through crowd favorites like "What Can I Say," "Closer to You," "Josephine," and the recent album's title track. Carlile's incredible pipes alternate between growling notes and swooning melodies, displaying the impeccable control and ingenuity that is so rare in contemporary vocalists. When the band breaks into a cover of "Fortunate Son," Carlile easily out-sings the original. Tim Hanseroth’s solo on "Folsom Prison Blues" is a spotlight-stealer, albeit brief, and I already mentioned the heartbreaking solos emanating from Neumann’s cello.
However, with all the recent classics and cover tunes, the hit of the night is when Carlile and company decide to share a brand new song, "Pride and Joy," with the crowd. It's probably a year away, at least, but it’s a gorgeous indication of what she’ll decide to do next time she enters a recording studio.
The EncoreThe three-song encore kicks off with an excellent danceable version of "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash, after Carlile beckons the crowd to their feet (where being dead center is even more awkward). Her little sister comes onstage next to sing (quite nicely) in the background for "Calling All Angels." Finally, as she indicated in our recent interview, Carlile closes the night out with a silence-inducing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—a perfect note on which to end.
For a full list of Brandi Carlile's tour dates, visit her official Web site