|All photos by Chris Lay|
Gave you the moon and the stars to keep
But you gave them back to me
This past winter, I didn’t do much at night but drink a reasonable amount of whiskey and listen to vinyl. Might sound bleak or beautiful depending on your point of view, but I was fighting through a period in my life where things were rapidly changing, and quite frankly, I started questioning who I was. I listened to many albums during this time: Metric’s Synthetica, Wilco’s A Ghost is Born, Matthew Ryan’s Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State, Tift Merritt’s Traveling Alone, Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Neil Young’s Zuma, Ryan Adams’ Demolition, and perhaps the most important of them all, Brandi Carlile’s Bear Creek.
Many nights, I cried alone while listening to this album. It represented a life and a dream that, minute by minute, day by day, was passing me by. Bear Creek — and I fully realize this now after seeing her perform it live — is an album about the distance between speaking too soon and breaking free. It’s an album of recognition: that we’re all flawed, and that the moment will never be just right, but to act anyway.
“Forget about the take, forget about the give,” Carlile sings on Bear Creek’s opening track, “Hard Way Home.” She literally screamed those words at The Pageant, where she and her band, with amazing symbiotic grace, delivered a near two-hour performance that covered every corner of her career.
Bathed in red light, Carlile stormed into “Raise Hell,” another gem from Bear Creek, and another statement about the ferocious process of getting what you want: speak your mind and be great, or get left behind. Flanked by identical twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass, Carlile welcomed the rawness of the song and moment, shuffling around the stage, remaining loose and confident in her skin.
“Dying Day” and “Dreams” provided further release. “How these days grow long,” Carlile sang on the former, allowing her voice to float and amaze with unlimited range. She’s a singer who doesn’t hit notes — everything she sings is a new note; her voice doesn’t happen on a dime, it soars high and low like an eagle in clean air. Later, during an exceptional solo electric performance of Radiohead’s “Creep,” she let a few notes linger, and then explode into different levels that cracked with authenticity.
Carlile’s decision to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” provided another rewarding moment of push and pull electricity, even without Lindsey Buckingham being present. And let’s get real: what other artist could follow this with delicate songs like “Again Today” and “That Wasn’t Me?” Perhaps I could name a few, but they’re playing in arenas or headlining the biggest festivals in the world.
Brandi Carlile could eventually be one of those artists. For now, she’s content with being the happiest person in the room, playing songs for an audience who adores her. And the gift of recognition doesn’t reveal itself any sweeter than that.