Wednesday, October 24, 2012
State Theatre, Portland, Maine
This was my seventh Brandi Carlile show. I love her. I was front and center. She sang inches away from me. She and the guys in the band were all smiles and every one of them made definite eye contact with me throughout the night—Tim even raised his eyebrows and smiled at me. I’m ready to call it—this was my favorite Brandi show and in my top ten of all shows I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen over 300 concerts, so. . .
I want to give a birthday shout out to my dear friend Kim, who I first saw Brandi with on December 3, 2005, opening for Ray LaMontagne at Berklee College of Music. She stole that show and Kim and I were instant fans. I got home a couple of days later and emailed 98.9 WCLZ to tell them about her and within a couple of weeks “What Can I Say?” was in their “New Music File.”
I saw Brandi from the front row at Berklee last November with my effervescent friend Tricia, and it was like having a sing along in Brandi’s living room. She was solo, and she played an incredible cover on piano of Damien Rice’s “Cannonball” that I remember like it was yesterday. The time before that, I saw Brandi at the Life is Good Festival, the only set of the day I made it to after someone broke into my car and made a huge mess that my friend Dave sweetly supported me in dealing with, including making a makeshift shower curtain window for the car ride back to Maine. Life wasn’t super good that day, I guess.
Friends asked if I wanted to join them for dinner before the show and I said no. I knew I’d need to get to the State early to earn my spot front and center. I was honestly a bit drained from having gone to see Bully on a field trip with my whole school earlier in the day. My face hurt from crying (I recommend that you see it, though), and I was hoping to rebound for the show. I couldn’t find a parking spot for a while, and by the time I got my ticket at will call, the line for the show wrapped around the block. I was so bummed. A lovely woman, Annie, from Martha’s Vineyard, who was bringing two sweet little boys, Forest and Jack, to the show, distracted me. I suggested they try for a balcony seat so that the boys would have a good view of the stage. I hope they found a good spot and enjoyed the show.
My fears were gone when I got inside, though. It seemed pretty empty on the floor. Were people there early to ensure good balcony seats? I can’t imagine, but there was plenty of room on the floor. I found a spot in the center behind two women. I met a group of fantastic young women, one of whom lives in Gardiner—small world—and we chatted for a long time. One of them was a huge Blitzen Trapper fan, so I encouraged her to write them a love note and lent her my pen. (They got the note later, by the way).
There was a shift in the crowd and I found myself standing next to the woman who’d been in front of me—so just behind one very short woman. What luck! An unobstructed view of the stage! I couldn’t believe it! Heather’s mom had gone to sit down, so there was room for me. It was her birthday present from her mom and she was a super concert buddy. This night was magical, and it had something to do with my surroundings. It’s been a long time since I was surrounded by such consistently lovely people at a show. The woman in front of me in the front row had arrived at 4:30. I’d gotten there significantly later, so was tickled about my luck. I believe in concert karma, and have since paid this forward. One of the crew members came up to us to let us know that Brandi and the guys would use the little platform we were standing at later in the show. We were pumped.
I liked Portland, Oregon’s folky rock band Blitzen Trapper. I am only vaguely familiar with their music thanks to my music aficionado friend, Greg, and I was happy to see them live. I had a hard time hearing them clearly during their set, though. Their lead singer looks a lot like my friend Alex, and I loved his harmonies with the pianist. I was glad to hear “Furr” and “Lady On The Water” live. I would have liked to hear “Heaven and Earth.” Check out “My Home Town” courtesy of Sleepover Shows.
Brandi’s set up went quickly and someone from the crew came out on stage and put the needle to a record on a player set up in the center of the stage. It set the scene for a crazy good, building, powerful introduction. We were pumped when Brandi, The Twins, and the rest of the band took the stage. There was an electric energy in the room that night.
Here’s the set list for the night:
“Closer to You”
“Before It Breaks”
“What Can I Say”
“Caroline” was in there somewhere
“Keep Your Heart Young”
“Hiding My Heart”
“Nothing Compares 2 U”
“Pride And Joy”
“That Wasn’t Me”
Brandi always encourages the audience to sing a long. I was lucky to be standing with lovely people and some of them (Heather included) could REALLY sing. I was overwhelmingly happy. So many pieces aligned to make this show magical, beautiful, intimate, and unforgettable.
Brandi and The Twins got on the platform directly in front of me and belted out my favorite of their songs—“What Can I Say”—completely unplugged. Someone got it on video! I was overwhelmed. I had to lean way back while taking some pictures of this too good to be true moment to try to fit them all in the frame. It didn’t work, but I love the photos anyhow. We sang along on the chorus and you could hear a pin drop during the verses. What command of the room! Oh my goodness. Phil even gave me a high five as he left the platform! The smile on my face was so big for so much of the show (but especially at that moment) that the women around me joked with me about my abundant displays of joy.
I love the message of “Keep Your Heart Young”—“Don’t trade in your tic tac box/For a ball on the end of the chain/And don’t go spending Grandpa’s pennies/Buying into the game/You gotta keep your heart young/Don’t go growing old before your time has come.” It manages to be both an important and still light hearted song. I loved hearing the secret song on The Story, “Hiding My Heart.” Brandi told us that Adele covered it (apparently I live under a rock, because I missed that) and that it inspired them to start playing it because she’d done it so beautifully.
Brandi founded the Looking Out Foundation in 2008 to support humanitarian work through music. She chooses a local non-profit in each town they play, invites that group to set up a table at the show, and encourages the audience to support the organization. I was really excited to hear Brandi offer her support and ask us to reach out to Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has provided food to Mainers since 1981. They do crucial work and have done so for over thirty years.
Brandi told us the story of a day early in their career spent in Tuscon, Arizona in their tour van with broken air conditioning—waiting out the day before their gig in a car wash to stay cool. There was a notorious sidewalk preacher yelling into his bullhorn about the end of the world, scaring the college kids on their way to the show. It inspired the song, “Looking Out.” I love knowing where songs come from, and I listened to the song more carefully with that story in mind. Here are some of the lyrics: “I went out looking for the answers/And never left my town/I’m no good at understanding/But I’m good at standing ground/And when I asked a corner preacher/I couldn’t hear him for my youth/Some people get religion/Some people get the truth.” And luckily the song has a happier ending than the end of the world—“And when you feel like giving in/Or the coming of the end/Like your heart could break in two/Someone loves you.”
I loved their rockin’ cover of “Jolene” and “The Story” was the perfect powerhouse song to end their set with. We’d been a rock solid audience, and Brandi and the guys came back for a three-song encore. I was FLOORED/blown away/moved by their cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” “Pride And Joy” was great. Brandi moved over to the piano to close the night with “That Wasn’t Me,” a song about addition and redemption. It was a soulful, lovely way to end the night. I really do think we impressed Brandi and the guys with our enthusiasm, but I was still surprised when Brandi came out solo to play a hauntingly beautiful version of “Hallelujah” for us. She gave a shout out to 98.9 WCLZ and dedicated the song to Ethan. I imagine WCLZ’s programming director Ethan Minton was over the moon!
Brandi was extraordinarily complimentary of us as an audience and of Portland in general. She echoed a shout out from an audience member encouraging us to support YES on 1, and humbly and appreciatively thanked us for a wonderful evening as she left the stage. Congratulations are in order to Brandi on her recent marriage to her wife Catherine Shepherd in Boston! I encourage everyone in Maine to get out to vote YES on 1 in a week. It is crucial that we support equality whenever the opportunity arises. Here is Brandi’s interview with the Portland Press Herald that addresses marriage equality at length.
What an amazing night. I would have loved to hear “That Year” and to sing in parts with The Twins and Brandi on “Turpentine,” but I ultimately wouldn’t have changed a thing. It took a few days to really start articulating how magical this evening of music was, but a few days later, I found the words. All 1,783 of them. Thank you so much to Blitzen Trapper, Brandi, Tim, Phil, and the hardworking and talented guys in Brandi’s band! Come back to Maine anytime!