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It’s a weird thing sometimes to be a music critic and a fan boy. You wanna join the masses of untrained singers in the audience because you know every word to every song from every album, but aren’t we supposed to sit cross-legged, hands folded in our lap, and be all professional?
If that’s proper critic protocol, I wasn’t about to follow it at Brandi Carlile’s show on Friday, Oct. 19 at The Fillmore Detroit – not with that voice, not with those songs. And definitely not in my Brandi Carlile T-shirt. (Hey, even she acknowledged during the show her fandom for artists she’s worked with. Which, by the way, includes Elton John.)
So cut me some slack for getting sucked into the hook of the heartsick lament “Dying Day,” or every other song she sang during the nearly two-hour show; Carlile hasn’t performed them in Detroit proper since she toured for her best known album to date, “The Story,” five years ago, when that ditty was still just a picture waiting for a frame.
I’ve seen Carlile eight times, most recently in Grand Rapids over the summer, but it’s been too long since she toured southeast Michigan. This wasn’t news to her; even she regretfully addressed the fact that she’s neglected this area lately. She’d been busy making a new album, “Bear Creek,” and planning her recent wedding to one of the cutest British women I’ve ever seen.
So the wait was agonizing but certainly worth it. Carlile shook up the set list – no audience-assisted “Turpentine,” probably aware that she ran that into the ground – with lots of curveballs: an unplugged version of “What Can I Say” off her debut (this was quite a feat considering the venue’s size); a mellow take on the world-weary “Looking Out,” a song that got the acoustic treatment; and one she admitted to rarely doing, “Late Morning Lullaby.” She even resurrected a hidden track, “Hiding My Heart,” because that’s what you do when Adele covers your song.
Then there was the encore. The chill-inducing, holy-shit encore. Returning to the stage, she and her sidekicks, Tim and Phil Hanseroth (better known as simply “the twins,” who I adore not just musically but as guys who clearly love their jobs), wooed the packed theater again with their devout affection for ’80s nostalgia (see: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a terrifically poignant piano take on Alphaville’s “Forever Young”). This time it was Sinead O’ Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” not a song you’d expect from an Americana act who spent many shows blowing the lid off Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
It’s a testament to Carlile as a vocalist, keeping the necessary tenderness but adding a cool bluesy vibe to the ballad with her rugged power belt. Of course I sang along, because even critics go crazy for that kind of thing.