Music

Review: Brandi Carlile’s Virtual House Concert–Almost Like Being There

 

The concert by Brandi Carlile and her band at Huntington Bank Pavilion in June 2019 was the first that I covered for Third Coast Review. The atmosphere was electric as Carlile and her fans celebrated her emergence as a superstar following her show-stopping performance of the song “The Joke” at the Grammy Awards that February.

For a time, Carlile seemed to be everywhere, collaborating with three other women stars (Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires) in a group called The Highwomen, and singing a duet with Dolly Parton, one of her idols, at the Newport Music Festival. The Highwomen were scheduled to perform at Wrigley Field on August 29, 2020, on a bill that included Chris Stapleton and Mavis Staples. Then came the pandemic, shutting down live performances across the nation. Carlile and twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, her bandmates for two decades, initially hunkered down in their home state of Washington.

But as the COVID cancellations dragged on, they came up with a simple but brilliant idea: A series of acoustic concerts, each a performance of one of their entire albums, from the loft of Carlile’s home, a converted barn. The concerts cost only $15 to watch, with the money designated for other members of their touring band so they would not have to be laid off or have their pay cut.

The homey atmosphere and laid-back acoustics of the live-streamed concert by Brandi Carlile and her bandmates contrasted with the high volume and high energy during their most recent Chicago appearance at Huntington Bank Pavilion in June 2019. Photos: Bob Benenson

After several well-attended album concerts (plus a Christmas music special), Carlile live-streamed a concert of songs last Saturday from her breakout 2007 album The Story. And while all music lovers rue the live music missing from our lives, the intimacy and warmth of this virtual house concert made you feel almost like you were in the loft with them—even if you were in your Chicago living room 2,000 miles away.

The music alone would have easily carried the concert. The potential shown in the band’s 2005 debut album Brandi Carlile enabled the group to recruit veteran music producer T Bone Burnett, who helped take The Story to the next level.

The Story opens with “Late Morning Lullaby,” which evokes the universal experience of the events of the day troubling your sleep (“Soon as my eyes close, the slide show begins. Yesterday is gone and now the panic sets in”). “The Story,” a power ballad about love, warts and all, follows. Then comes “Turpentine,” with poetic lyricism—”Just when we thought we could be great, reality it permeates, and conquers from within again”—that was accented when Carlile revealed she wrote the song when she was 17. The concert continued seamlessly through 10 more tracks, including Carlile classics such as “My Song” and “Losing Heart.”

But what raised the charm level of the concert was the relaxed banter among Carlile, the Hanseroths, and Josh Neumann, whose cello plays an unusually key role for a popular music band. The family atmosphere was authentic. The band lives together at a compound that is home to Carlile, her wife Catherine Shepherd and their two daughters. Phil Hanseroth is married to Carlile’s sister.

Twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth bracket Brandi Carlile during the live-streamed concert of their album The Story. The three met on the Seattle club scene and have been performing together for nearly two decades. Photo: Bob Benenson

Many people think the song “The Story” derives from Carlile’s own experiences, given the fierceness with which she attacks the lyrics and its very personal sentiments (“No, they don’t know who I really am, and they don’t know what I’ve been through like you do, I was made for you”). Carlile, though, has been clear that Phil Hanseroth wrote the song before they met, and shared an amusing anecdote during the concert about how it came to be identified with her.

When Carlile first emerged on the Seattle club scene at age 17, the Hanseroths had their own popular band, Fighting Machinists. Carlile later organized a show at a club and included the Hanseroths on the bill, but they didn’t show up. Carlile said she nonetheless gave her first public performance of The Story that night.

Carlile also revealed that Phil Hanseroth came up with the idea for the song “Have You Ever” while walking naked through the woods near her home (the song begins “Have you ever been out walking in the woods”).

Along with their music chops, Carlile and the Hanseroths are known for their humanitarian efforts. After first hitting it big with The Story album, they created the Looking Out Foundation with missions such as racial justice and the issues facing incarcerated women. During the live-streamed concert, Carlile promoted Children in Conflict, a U.S. spinoff of the British-based War Child UK, which raises money to assist children around the world whose lives have been disrupted by war.

Finally, the good news. First, Carlile revealed that the band has cut a new album that will be released soon—its first since 2018’s By the Way, I Forgive You, the album that included the Grammy awarding “The Joke.”

And if you missed Saturday’s live-stream, you can watch the concert on demand through February 14. Tickets are $15 each on the Veeps ticketing site and allow multiple viewings through the February 14 expiration date.

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