Brandi Carlile has had a rather eventful week.
Last Sunday, she persuaded – and accompanied – her new best friend, a retiree Joni Mitchell, to play her first full set in 22 years, at the Newport Folk Festival. It was a historic moment.
Rounding out the week, Carlile headlined Saturday in a Twin Cities arena for the very first time. This was long overdue in its biggest market. She had been too busy performing at the Minnesota State Fair and running several nightly runs at the State Theater, the Minnesota Zoo, and the Fillmore Minneapolis.
“Of [the 400 Bar] to this,” Carlile proclaimed Saturday to 12,239 fans at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center. [crap]!”
Calling it her rock ‘n’ roll dream and one of her biggest live audiences, she gushed, beamed and dazzled for 125 minutes with her voice, warmth and sincerity. She was genuinely taken by the thunderous reception.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime crowd,” she said during her encore.
It wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime performance – his many Twin Cities shows were outstanding – but Saturday’s was truly unforgettable.
Carlile, 41, was open-minded, generous, excited – and excitable. She raised her hands in triumph after several songs – and called out for it. At the end of the night, she happily tapped her foot as she and her nine-piece band took their bows.
She sang her signature songs with conviction and delivered a few covers with panache (Radiohead’s “Creep” was very special). During the encore, she released her two opening acts and even brought her two daughters and wife into a choir for the spirited “Hold Out Your Hand.”
During the half-hour encore, Carlile greeted Mitchell (last Sunday was “the most incredible moment of my career”) with a brooding and sometimes muddy treatment of “Woodstock” that started out as a reverent witty and moved on. evolved into thundering blues.
That’s the thing with Carlile, his songs are filled with dramatic musical turns because his sound is so eclectic, his voice is so dynamic. “The Story,” his modest 2007 adult pop hit, and “The Joke,” his 2017 Grammy winner, both started as folk songs on Saturday and eventually turned into volcanic vocal outbursts. Mariah Carey has nothing on Carlile.
While the Washington state native is generally categorized as Americana, she started the night rocking harder than ever, with “Broken Horses” and “Mainstream Kid.” Before the end of the concert, she tackled folk, country, pop, blues, ballads, standards and harmony singing.
The setlist was packed with material from last year’s “In These Silent Days” and 2018’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” leading to Grammy-time catapulting her from a cult singer to a “we need to have Brandi Carlile on our TV show.”
His bravura vocals led to some big moments on Saturday, but some of the quieter ones stood out, especially the “Stay Gentle” finale, for which his reassuring vocals were accompanied by his string quartet. She continued with “Over the Rainbow”, with just her acoustic guitar and her voice rising very high.
However, perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was Carlile’s story about his daughter Evangeline, 8, making a secret potion of soap, soda and any other liquid she could find and leaving her at the bedside of mom’s hotel. Needless to say, Carlile unknowingly took a sip of the soapy potion and wasn’t sure what impact it would have on her voice on Saturday night. Mischief didn’t stop her from singing “The Mother,” an at times sardonic but loving ode to becoming a mom.
Opening the concert was the disappointing Lake Street Dive, whose sympathetic jazzy pop doesn’t play well in an arena, and the overwhelming Celisse, a singer-guitarist who received standing ovations for two of her four numbers, including one infernal interpretation of Bill Withers. “Use me.”