Brandi Carlile – Orpheum Theater – Boston – 10.10.15
The sound of crashing thunder jerks my surprised head up from looking at the phone in my lap. I train my eyes on the empty stage, now being lit up by artificial strikes of lightning. The entire auditorium erupts in deafening cheers. Slowly, a man walks across the stage, sitting himself on a chair placed on the far right. Showing no emotion, he picks up a cello, positions it on his lap, and begins to play. As soon as his bow hits the first string, two blinding spot lights rise up behind him. His newly formed silhouette adds the rolling sounds of the cello to the thunder and lightning, still engulfing the entire auditorium. Soon, four more figures make their way on to the stage in the darkness. At this point, the crowd is yelling so loudly that your own screams are inaudible. The lights come up, the cheers get impossibly louder, and the full band begins to play. She stands there, with a twin on each side, smiling. Grabbing the mic she begins to sing. Effortlessly incredible, impossibly glorious, and insanely talented, Brandi Carlile is now standing center stage, bringing the screaming audience to their feet.
The first thing that needs to be described about the Brandi Carlile concert I attended in Boston on October 10th is the visual aspect of it. Walking into the Orpheum Theater, I knew that Brandi’s voice was going to be incredible. My parents had recently seen her perform in a smaller venue this past spring and both claimed it
was one of the best concerts they have seen, which says a lot, considering they have seen performances from the Jackson 5 to Jack Johnson. However, what I was not expecting was how detailed and aesthetically pleasing her set was going to be. The biggest aspect worth mentioning was the symmetry of the set. I’m not talking about having the exact same shapes and colors on either side of the stage; I’m talking about the two tall, lanky, bald twins that sing on either side of Brandi Carlile. Collectively referred to as “the twins,” Tim and Phil Hanserorth are, by definition, a sight to see. Wearing nearly identical outfits, they both bounce around on either side of Brandi Carlile during her entire set, playing an assortment of guitars and singing back up. They looked like the large bananas who wear pajamas in the show Bananas in Pajamas. Another of the set’s strengths was the phenomenal lighting. Not only was there the striking opening theatrics involving the cello, but also in the climax of the show: when the entire backstage was lit up with silver and white lights, turning each band member into a silhouette. The lights did more than highlight the stage; they interacted with the music and the audience. When Carlile sang the chorus of her most popular song, “The Story”, the stage and crowd lit up with the fiery colors of red, orange, yellow, and a little purple. As the music changed, your mindset did too; how you felt, what you saw, and of course what you heard.
Although I loved the set and atmosphere of the show, my favorite part of seeing Brandi Carlile was hearing her talk about each song and connect with the audience. I often do not understand the meaning of certain songs performed by artists whom I listen to until I’ve attended their concert. Brandi Carlile is one of these artists. She explained why she chose to cover the song “Murder in the City”, originally by the Avett Brothers, on her latest album and made me realize that one of her darker songs was actually a love song for her wife, who came out and sang it with her. Brandi also preached about how her song “Raise Hell” is about the feminist movement. Another song is one I had barely listened to before her concert, off of her 2009 album Give Up the Ghost, titled “That Year”. I had never fully understood or paid much attention to it. Standing by herself on stage, in the middle of the set, Brandi explained its backstory. The crammed, sold-out theater was nearly silent as she recalled her friend who ended his own life when he was 16. At the time, Carlile was angry at him; she thought he was selfish and refused to think about him. Then, ten years after his death, she dreamt about him. Knowing more about herself and the world, Brandi wrote this song as a plea for forgiveness to her friend for not being there for him and not understanding his pain. You could hear her fingers brushing over her guitar strings as she began to sing… “I must have been sleeping, I must have been drinking, I haven’t been dreaming about you for years. There was a sharp turn and a sunburn. I was too cool for high school that year.”
What makes Brandi Carlile stand out from many other artists is not only her incredibly smooth, raspy voice, but also how she uses her music to support her other passions. At the end of the concert, she stood on stage with her entire band and reminded her audience of how blessed we all are and about how there are so many issues in this world that need to be solved. She instructed us to keep giving out love, to make the world better with small, positive gestures, and to make a difference. A feminist, an advocate for teen depression awareness, and a fighter for the LGBTQ community, Brandi Carlile cares more that you make this world better than that you enjoy her music, and that is what makes her concerts so exciting and passionate. That is what makes her music so haunting and beautiful. That is why seeing Brandi Carlile live is an opportunity not to be missed.
Cover photo: Margaret Davenport