Brandi Carlile Concert Review - Live in Austin, Texas

While not that well-known as of yet to mainstream country audiences, Brandi Carlile has been growing her career from opening act to headliner status and her recent visit to Austin's Hogg Memorial Auditorium was the perfect example.  How did the show play out?

Between songs last night, Brandi Carlile spoke of an early dream to headline at the Hogg Memorial Auditorium fostered when she opened for Shawn Colvin.  She, like most of her audience, is used to playing bars and other “places where people stand up,” so it was a refreshing change for both to be in this venue.  It is a beautiful theatre, old fashioned and trimmed it gilt, with amazing acoustics.  The crowd was a nice mix of new and old fans that came to see a show as lovely as the venue and as intimate as a club.  And Carlile more than delivered in a 90 minute set that encapsulated music from her three albums and covers raging from Tears for Fears to Johnny Cash.  

Gill Landry opened the show with a meandering and mesmerizing set of country.  Landry is perhaps best known in recent months for working with Old Crow Medicine Show.  He rambled through numbers like Dixie (about an extinct beer) and Louisiana.  He lists “cold hearted women, Louisiana and lost love” among his influences and these were on full display in his set.   Landry’s music hits a vibe that runs somewhere between Townes Van Zandt on the High Plains and Hank Williams on Beale street.  He is one of those opening acts that might well have stolen the show, had his headliner been a lesser artist.

Thankfully, Brandi Carlile is an artist that can hold her own following even the best opening act.  She started her set with “Oh Dear,” performed in perfect harmony with her band, a capella except for a few notes plunked on a ukulele.  Then she ripped into a blistering rendition of Looking Out that had fans dancing in their seats.  She proclaimed The Times They Are A-Changing a standard by announcing, “Every time I have heard this song over the past ten or so years I felt like it was about that exact moment, right then.”  Carlile touched on such favorites as Late Morning Lullaby and What Can I Say, even coaching her fans through a three part harmony session.  She closed out the hour long set with a haunting, dramatic cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” that found her in near darkness, pounding on a piano while Josh Neaumann sawed on his cello. 

The thirty minute encore began with twin band members Tim and Phil Hanseroth covering Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.  They then returned to guitar and bass respectively as Brandi launched into a marginally unsuccessful solo version of Johnny Cash’s Jackson.  She made up for this misstep with a foot-stomping “Folsom Prison Blues” which had her fans on their feet, clapping and singing along.  The high point of her encore was a touching rendition of what she called “the saddest song on my new album” That Year.  She finally closed out the evening with Dreams, from Giving up the Ghost.

On Saturday night, Brandi Carlile finally got a chance to fulfill a ten-year dream she had of headlining at Hogg Memorial Auditorium.  From the second she hit the stage she seemed determined to make the most of her opportunity.  She savored the moments she got to have fun playing with her band, and those occasional moments when she got to have the spotlight all to herself.  She fed off the audience, inviting them to be a part of her show and feeding off the energy they provided.  Yes, Brandi Carlile finally got a chance to live her dream and her audience was blessed to have the chance to share in it.