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The Weight of a Voice

SHOW #34: Brandi Carlile with Ingrid Michaelson and Gregory Alan Isakov

Hey internet. It’s been like, what, two weeks since I posted my last concert review. That’s a pretty long time. So, what have you been up to? Really? That much porn? Wow, maybe I shouldn’t have asked.

If any of you out there feared that I’d given up on my quest let me put such fears to rest immediately, I took the week of the 4th off simply because with the holiday being on a Wednesday the entire week was oddly timed. Then my concert for this week, or rather last week if you say the week begins on Sunday wasn’t until Saturday night. I’m still pushing hard to get these 52 shows in before the year is up. Last night was another exciting evening and incredible show at Red Rocks. I’ve only got one more Red Rocks show left before the Red Rocks concert season comes to an end. I’m surprised I’ve seen as many shows there as I have because it’s a bit expensive but pretty much all of these shows were must see for me. Actually I’d like to make it two more because The Airborne Toxic Event is playing with the symphony at Red Rocks in September but I’m just not sure I’ll be able to swing it.

Enough about that though, on to the music.

Gregory Alan Isakov

This is the second time this year I’ve seen Isakov and it’s worth noting that he was as much responsible for my ticket purchase as either Brandi Carlile or Ingrid Michaelson. The first time I saw him was way back on leapday in a much smaller venue and I have to say that that performance was better. This isn’t through any fault of his, it’s really just the circumstances. He still played a great set and the music was simple and powerful as his music always is but the lady sitting next to me made the point that he is much more well suited to a smaller venue because his voice was kind of lost out at Red Rocks. I agree with that to a point. I don’t think the size of the venue is to blame but more the intention of the crowd. If the crowd was there to see him and was quiet and respectful during his set his voice would carry there and it would be incredible but in this case he was the first of two openers and a lot of the crowd was still filing in or making conversation while he played. It’s a shame too because those who didn’t pay attention missed out. I also felt like his set was too short, that bound to happen when you’re the first opener but still I wanted to hear more.

He played a lot of good music but probably the highlight of his set was when Brandi Carlile joined him on stage for his final song. She provided vocals on his album This Empty Norther Hemisphere so I thought there was a chance that she’d join him but it seemed slim. There tends to be a certain amount of prima donna mentality in the music industry and I could easily imagine somoen who was headlining at Red Rocks not deigning to take the stage before their set because they were the star. I think it speaks to Brandi Carlile’s character that she did that. It was a great song and an end to a great set. I hope that this isn’t the last time I see Isakov this year. I’d love to see him put on a headline performance and to be in a crowd that is there is see him perform his music.

Ingrid Michaelson

Ingrid Michaelson is a ridiculous amount of fun. She just seemed so energetic and the show had this interestingly hectic kind of vibe that I really liked. It felt very organic and not heavily rehearsed. It’s hard to say if that level of off the cuff is organic or if it’s something you have to work at to achieve but whichever it is it as a joy to watch. From the impromptu We Are The World sing along to the random and frequent dips into Richard Marx’s Right Here Waiting For You’s opening piano riff she just seemed to be having fun and it was infectious.

Her music was simple, heartfelt and moving. I came into this show never having heard anything by her, which is a bit of a shame because I really feel like the show would have been much better if I had been in tune with the lyrics because it seems that she makes music where the lyrics matter. Over the course of the show as I got used to her voice I started being able to hear the words a little more clearly but I fell like it still wasn’t the same as it would have been if I’d known all the words. What I’m saying is that I’ll have to pick up a few of her CDs (Yes, I said CDs. What can I say. I’m old.) and give her a more thorough listen. Her music seems to be worthy of such attention.

For about the first half of the show I was ready to tell you that her voice is good but not exceptional, then she dismissed her band and did a solo a capella cover of REM’s night swimming using her looping pedal to create a rich vocal background for her to sing over. It was simply incredible and instantly made me reassess her vocal talent because she’s got it in spades. Seriously, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard and it got her a standing ovation from the crowd. An ovation that was very well deserved. After the ovation she lamented that she should have closed with it, which, maybe she should have, but I’m glad she didn’t because in a lot of ways that moment drew the crowd to her, crystallized their focus and quieted them down which made the rest of her set just that much better.

She’s eccentric, fun and extremely talented and she knows how to harness all of those things to create a wonderful musical experience. I hadn’t seen her before last night but after that performance I’ll certainly see her again.

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile’s voice carries weight. The kind of weight that will break your heart and then put it back together several times per show. The kind of weight that, when combine with moving personal lyrics creates an incredible concert experience. She’s got the kind of voice that is hard to come by, at once rich and soulful while also being able to delve into the realm of light and airy. The kind of voice that carries songs and when combined with feeling makes them something other. Something more. Something incredible.

Her performance at Red Rocks was great for more reasons than her voice though. In fact I’d say the best part of the entire performance was how genuine and personal; she was all night long. It seems insane that someone could manage to personally connect with just over 9,000 strangers but she did. She was humble, and sweet, and so truly enthusiastic all night long that nothing she said rang hollow or untrue. I think I’ve said before that there is a certain amount of ‘Made It’ that accompanies headlining Red Rocks. It’s a place with history, a place that is a career goal for a lot of musicians in this country, and possibly even musicians from outside this country. It’s an exceptionally beautiful venue that takes music out amongst nature where it really truly belongs. Still, it’s hard to believe everyone that says how happy there are to be there or how beautiful it is. There is a certain amount of pandering that is just inherent in the music business that can make an audience member cynical. I didn’t get pandering from Brandi last night though. All I got was genuine awe and wonder at finally headlining the place she loves so much, finally knowing that those seats were full of people there to see her, finally sharing that same moment with all of those who had come before. The way that she reacted to it, to us, was moving and personal. Her joy was obvious and it carried through in everything she did making the show that much better.

There were so many great moments in this show though probably at the top of my list is when she sat at the piano and said ‘It’s time for something magical’ just before the band launched into a cover ofBohemian Rhapsodyit was unexpected and fantastic. Though I really must say that every time I see someone cover Queen all I can think to myself is Jesus Freddie Mercury was talented. This is not a knock on Brandi Carlile at all, she killed it it was an incredible performance but every single cover of that song, or every Queen song, pales in comparison to the original because Freddie Mercury was just that damn good.

She closed the show with a cover of one of the most oft covered songs out there in Hallelujah and her performance was just breathtaking. Before she started playing it she said that she wasn’t sure if she was going to play it at all but she couldn’t possibly end the best night of her life without singing her favorite song of all time. She put so much emotion into that song that she just owned it. There are a million version of that song out there but her’s, last night, was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Brandi Carlile is an exceptional talent who makes exceptional music. If you haven’t seen her before you should make a point of doing so. You will not be disappointed.

A snippet from rehearsals before the show that sadly ends too soon, and then two songs in closing:


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