Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brandi (not Brandy)

My friend Lance Hill (you may know him from the "Famous for No Reason" campaign) drove the three hours from Taylor's campus to meet me in Ann Arbor, MI for a concert by none other than Brandi Carlile. Honestly, I hadn't heard more than two of her songs before tonight but was drawn in when Rachel Sawyer (thanks much) contacted me a few days ago and said she could get me and a friend "on the list." Although her voice kind of annoys me in the two singles I'm semi-familiar with, I'm always up for a free concert. So, for the first time in my life, I got to say, "I'm with the band" and received a VIP sticker (which we didn't really use... but the envious glances by hardcore fans were fantastic).

A singer/songwriter named, Angel Taylor opened for Brandi. Her soulful voice was great but the instrumentation from the three-piece band wasn't something to write home about. Unfortunately, the strongest effort was a cover or Jet's "Are You Going to Be My Girl?", acting as a bit of an outlier from the rest of her songs. She mumbled a lot between songs as well, making for awkward silences following what I presumed were jokes. Overall, mediocre performance from a young (she's only 21) artist... she's got time to improve.

Brandi walked onto the stage and the first thought that came to my mind was that she was like Tina Fey, just substitute a Southern drawl for Tina's thick-rimmed glasses. Hailing from the Seattle area, I'm not sure where the voice/accent came from but it helped in making for a strong stage presence, always making the audience feel like they were close friends with her and the band in some Southern hospitality sort of way. Interesting and relevant stories (e.g. an account of a friend's suicide or meeting and recording with her teenage idol Elton John) kept me in-tune with the set and helped keep me from disconnecting (something that often happens when seeing an unfamiliar band).

Opening with a 5-piece acapella (sp?) song, I enjoyed the variety of song performances throughout the night. She and the band commonly switched from full standard band (+ cello) to a more stripped down guitar/snare/acoustic-bass set up to a completely unplugged voice/guitar. Since her inception as an artist, she has toured with "the twins" (the lead guitar and bass players). They were a living cliche in how eerily similar they were, making me think of cinematic twins such as the bad dudes from the second Matrix or the Weasley twins from the Harry Potter series. Anyhow, they were skilled musicians and served as strong supporting vocalists (there's a lot of "ooo"-ing in her songs).

The variety of instrumentation served as a good foundation for her strong lyrics that made for an engaging evening. Although not my exact style (her voice still kind of annoys me), her lyrics had a way of drawing the listener (me) in. While the crowd there loved her, it was a bit weird being completely unfamiliar with an artist's music while sitting amongst her biggest fans. My favorite line came from a guy sitting behind us, "You know what Brandi is really good at? Everything."

While I may not have been as enthusiastic about her music as the rest of the crowd, it was a good show, it was great to see Lance, and it's always great to feel like an insider (thanks again, Rachel). Filling the encore performance with solid renditions of Johnny Cash's "Jackson" and the Beatles' "Let it be" didn't hurt things, either.

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