Concert Review: Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile's music defies any category.

At times she rocks out like Melissa Etheridge. At other times there's a touch of country, of Bonnie Raitt or Emmylou Harris. She's recorded with the Indigo Girls.

What she is, is a refreshing breath of fresh air in today's music scene, and her show last night at the House of Blues, nearly three hours of live music (including the opening act, "A Fine Frenzy", was a welcome distraction from the constant reminder that I should have been at Wrigley Field last night watching game two of the NLCS between the Rockies and Cubs... well, never mind. We cannot lament what simply did not happen this season.

A few words about the House of Blues; last night was the first time I'd ever been there. It has quickly become one of my favorite concert venues. It's all standing room, except for a few barstools on either side of the standing area, and also in the multiple balconies. Despite that, it seems and feels spacious; the very high ceiling makes the acoustics nearly perfect and the sightlines excellent. Security is omnipresent but not oppressive; I found the staff both attentive and friendly. I'd highly recommend the HOB for any show you'd like to see.

Carlile (who, keeping this Cub-related, was born on the same day as Carlos Zambrano, June 1, 1981), first came to prominence last spring when several of her songs (notably, "Turpentine") were featured on the ABC prime-time show "Grey's Anatomy". She's equally at home with a song like that, or the harder-rocking "My Song", which started the set, or a cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison". She also did covers of Elton John's "Madman Across The Water" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", demonstrating her range, and when introducing Cash's song she said, "You don't mind if we go a little country on you?", and then briefly launched into a phrase or two of Tammy Wynette's "Sometimes It's Hard To Be A Woman", to laughter, before starting the Cash song. She also did an "acoustic set" which at one point got completely acoustic -- the entire band gathered at the front of the stage, in front of the mikes, and sang and played without electronic accompaniment. The crowd (mostly) hushed, and the size of the venue made it easy to hear the song.

The opening act, A Fine Frenzy, is a trio headed by 22-year-old Alison Sudol, a tall woman with fire-engine red hair and a big voice, who kept apologizing for extending her set (she kept saying she hoped they'd ask her back after playing so many songs). The extended opening set (45 minutes long) was worth it; A Fine Frenzy was featured on iTunes a month or so ago with their single "You Picked Me" chosen as iTunes' free "Single of the Week".

With the price of major arena concerts by bigtime bands approaching the stratosphere, it was refreshing to see a show of this length by two talents who I think are going to make a significant impact on the music scene in the next few years -- and pay only $20. Their tour continues in the US for another few weeks, before heading to Australia and the UK. (The Australia dates aren't in that link but they're in November.) If Brandi comes to your town go see her show. (And no, I wasn't the oldest person in the venue, either.)

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