The Bomb Factory, Dallas
April 12, 2019
The cheers and applause seemed to rise and rise, as if the sheer force of it all would pop the roof right off The Bomb Factory.
Brandi Carlile — singer, songwriter, mother, devoted activist and newly minted Grammy winner — stood in the spotlight Friday night, flanked by her adored, longtime collaborators, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, and soaked it all in, hands clasped to her chest.
“Oh, this feels good,” she told the crowd, her voice fluttering with adrenaline and joy. “This feels really good. Oh, Dallas, I love you.”
The sold-out crowd, already buzzing with anticipation, only roared louder, eliciting another can-you-believe-this chuckle from the 37-year-old musician: “Look at me, rocking a big ol’ club show in my mom shoes," she added. "Of all the amazing things we’ve done in the past few months, this is what I truly love.”
“This” is the sort of visceral, 100-minute set with which Carlile has built her deserved reputation over the last 18 years, the sort of performance that convinces skeptics and converts the unfamiliar into rabidly passionate fans.
Her Friday night turn, backed by a total of seven musicians on a relatively spartan stage, often felt like a victory lap — an admittedly odd sensation, given Carlile’s hiding-in-plain-sight career — but nevertheless a tacit acknowledgment that, since her searing rendition of her hit single “The Joke” on the Grammys telecast in February (which Carlile described as “a life-changing moment”), her stock has risen tremendously.
The Washington state native continues to tour behind her superb sixth album, last year’s By The Way, I Forgive You, which comprised much of Friday’s set list — and yes, the defiant anthem “The Joke” made an appearance, inspiring one of the evening’s many spontaneous singalongs.
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Other standouts included her signature “The Story,” a frenetic, slashing “Mainstream Kid,” the searing “Sugartooth,” a sizzling cover of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water,” the bittersweet “Fulton County Jane Doe” and the mournful, main set finale “Party of One,” a tune Carlile said was the result of “a catastrophic fight with your spouse, staying up all night getting drunk and listening to Joni (Mitchell).”
Mitchell’s influence also materialized in the form of a sterling cover of “A Case of You,” which pointed the way toward another Carlile landmark later this year: She plans to cover Mitchell’s masterpiece Blue in concert in Los Angeles. “Joni said she’s coming,” Carlile said. “When the time comes, I’ll wish I was climbing a cliff face with no ropes.”
In conversation as in her lyrics, Carlile freely provided the audience with a window into her thoughts and feelings. The mother of two, with wife Catherine Shepherd, spoke at length about her initial ambivalence surrounding parenthood.
“Becoming a mother changed my life — changed me in ways I wasn’t expecting," she reflected. "When (her daughter) Evangeline came along, I had an existential crisis. I didn’t feel overwhelmed; I felt really apprehensive. If more people had been honest with me (about their own feelings), I wouldn’t have Googled ‘sociopath’ from the delivery room.”
Four-year-old Evangeline was on hand Friday, making a mid-set cameo and returning during the confetti-laden, one-song encore, “Hold Out Your Hand,” to have the final word: “We love you Dallas!”
Carlile’s candor, and her willingness to bare her own insecurities and anxieties, is the engine fueling her remarkable music, coupled with her astonishing contralto voice, capable of leaping octaves and scorching the heavens.
It’s a strange thing to see someone who’s been something of a cult favorite — Friday marked Carlile’s first Dallas stop in two years, but she’s worked her way from the Granada Theater to the House of Blues to the Majestic Theatre to the Bomb Factory over the last dozen years — suddenly blossom into a favorite of exponentially more people.
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Make no mistake: That belated discovery and subsequent higher profile are undeniably a wonderful thing for the hardworking, deeply talented and charismatic Carlile.
Yet, there’s a lingering feeling of others learning about a secret only you and a few others have known and understood — absolutely euphoric, yes, watching 4,000 people wholeheartedly embrace such a deserving artist, but also a touch bittersweet.
Carlile makes the kind of music that speaks directly to you, and you selfishly want to hoard it and let it wash over you alone — far from the cheering crowds who eagerly fill ever-larger rooms to hear it.
Still, the secret’s out now. If Friday’s performance is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before Carlile is as fiercely beloved by the many as she has long been revered by the few.