Brandi Carlile @ Bush Hall, 27 October 2011
Let’s have three cheers for sincerity – for that’s what American folk-rock crossover singer Brandi Carlile brings to her live performance. This is her first London date in over two years – having fallen foul of the ash cloud on her last planned trip – and she confesses her nerves. She is performing solo tonight, without the comforting buffer of band-mates Tim & Phil Hanseroth (‘The Twins’) either side of her. The fans here this evening are buzzing with warmth for Carlile, however, and aided by a glass of whisky at her piano she soon relaxes into her set of story-telling country-folk-rock.
This is a true solo show: Carlile accompanies herself with guitar or piano and there are no other instruments or musicians onstage. This is a fact the girls are must keep reminding ourselves because the heartiness of the sound she is able to create, just on her own, is meaty and rich. Carlile achieves something unusual tonight. She plays a gig that feels at once intimate while simultaneously creating a stadium-like sound. The venue plays its part: Bush Hall, with its chandeliers, lack of air conditioning, red velvet curtains and red-pink lights, gives the girls are the impression of being inside a throbbing heart. The atmosphere at this show adds to this overall feeling of pulsing intensity. Carlile’s fans are dedicated, and they have been waiting feverishly for her return to the UK. The pre-show chatter is jittery; before she appears a roadie elicits whoops from the crowd merely by walking across the stage.
Without fanfare Brandi Carlile comes out and unwraps her coffee cake voice for us. Her voice is rich and bitter-sweet; the audience stand very still and very quiet during ‘Dreams’ in order not to miss any of her inflections. She alternates between acoustic guitar and piano. ‘Before It Breaks’ she sings with piano, playing wistful twinkles of melody while her voice swallow dives through the lyrics. By now the assembled fans can no longer restrain themselves, encouraged, they sing and clap along. The gig has become an immersive, emotive experience. The audience and Carlile sing together the refrain, “someone loves you,” from ‘Looking Out’.
Brandi Carlile has taken the opportunity of performing solo tonight to re-interpret her repertoire. She bids the audience to help her complete three-part harmonies in ‘Dying Day’. We do. She is clearly emotional when she says, “…that was amazing. I never thought that would happen…”. She dedicates ‘The Story’ to London, the city, its people and its venues. As she sings, “I was made for you”, the audience have their faces upturned and give the lyric back to her.
Brandi Carlile’s tour continues internationally, her tour dates are here. Which are your favourite cross-genre artists? How important to a live experience is it for a performer to make the audience part of the performance?