BY DAINON MOODY
At some point, somebody ought to take it upon themselves to send Elton John a Thank You note. Everything about Brandi Carlile’s sold-out performance at the still-new State Room Saturday night pointed directly back to his time-proven genius, after all. Or so Carlile had us believe.
High off of what she was wont to call the “best day of her life”—one that included hanging out with Elton for most of the day in Vegas, as he was helping record a song for her upcoming record—she delivered one of the greatest nights of music this city has seen inside a decade. High praise, maybe, but not for the 300 or so gathered there to drink it in. It was so good, you wanted to believe it had nothing to do with the film crew on hand recording her every word and song and gesture. You even wanted to believe it had nothing to do with the glow that she wore on account of Sir Elton. And, you know, maybe none of that mattered. Maybe.
Barring that, then, she was beautiful. And, yeah, that means she was easy with her smiles and great with a head of tousled hair and as good on her guitar as she was the keys, but all who know her name know what it is she’s best at: her singing voice is a veritable force to be reckoned with. She houses a gale wind. As strong as it is soft, as ragged as it is smooth, her voice was as tender as it was superhuman; and, by that, it means she never hit a sour note. Not once. With her acoustic band in tow, the guitar-and-bass-wielding, singing identical twins with the shaved heads flanking her (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and cellist Josh Neumann providing some weight to her words, the new songs didn’t sound necessarily new and the covers didn’t sound like they belonged to anybody else before her.
“Closer to You” got just as much response as The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “Turpentine” got all the applause that new song “Dying Day” did (and a completely unplugged take on that one, no less). See, that old standard applied here—it wasn’t so much what she sang, but how she sang it. It's the truth. There were sing-a-longs in three-part harmony and red, burning candles and even a ukulele. It was ridiculously perfect. And, by the way, as for that Johnny Cash twofer somewhere near the end? Forget about it. She could do a Johnny Cash tribute tour after this one’s all over with and fill the Rio Tinto once or twice in the process.
One of the great (blessed?) things about the specific audience gathered was that it knew when to hold its breath and allow her big voice to fill up the room. It’s the sound all who came wanted to hear, anyway. Which begs another point, honestly. Ignore the still-fresh paint smell of The State Room already and realize, once and for all, the guys who set things up knew exactly what they were doing. All at once, audiences can actually make out the lyrics being sung again. It’s some kinda magic is what it is.
Wrap it all up with a pretty bow and know that, well, Carlile couldn’t have made this a better performance if she had tried. The entire experience is so completely hard to describe without coming off as falling down effusive (too late?), but it’s the sort of show that makes getting pegged in the forehead by a flipped guitar picks not a bad thing, but a cause for celebration instead.
And, you know? That's not bad for someone who’s yet to release her third album. One might say she’s coming into her own—or that she’s not resting on her laurels. Eh, pick one and call it good.