Brandi Carlile Makes Her Own History at Ryman Auditorium
Most artists who play at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium comment about how historic the room is and what an honor it is to step on that stage. Maybe all of them mean it, but probably none of them to the extent that Brandi Carlile meant it on Saturday night. She seemed supremely touched and genuinely humbled to be there in front of a sold-out crowd. She and the twins (Phil and Tim Hanseroth) wasted nary a second, busting out the good stuff right from the top and pulling no punches as they proved they belonged there.
Crashes of thunder, flashes of lights, howls of wind, and whinnies of horses made for an eery opening that cellist Josh Neumann piled on leading into “The Stranger at My Door,” the titular tune from Carlile’s latest release, The Firewatcher’s Daughter. The band showed up ready to rock ‘n’ roar, heading straight into “The Story” from there and wailing the hell out of that thing. Two songs in and the audience was already going crazy.
Though the stacked deck of great tunes continued, they stepped it down a couple notches for “Hard Way Home,” a song which took on a special significance that night as Carlile had finally made her way to her true musical home. Stepping it down still more, Carlile and the twins sent Neumann and drummer Brian Griffith into the wings for their three-lead rendering of “The Eye” with the house lights partially up. The audience’s more-than-enthusiastic response led a beaming Carlile to muse, “It’s just like I always dreamed it would be.” As she took her seat at the piano before “That Wasn’t Me,” she asked one of the twins to bring over her whiskey… it’s the Ryman, after all.
With the band back in place, Carlile challenged Phil to a high note sing-off to make sure he was ready for “The Things I Regret.” He was. Then, armed with a cowbell to introduce “Dying Day,” Carlile recounted the time she sang “Honky Tonk Women” at a charity event and had to stave off laughter as Will Ferrell — her comedy hero — banged a cowbell — and her ass — while dancing right next to her. She said, with apologies to her daughter, that night and this night were probably the two best of her life. To really put “Dying Day” over the top, Griffith donned a washboard as he and Neumann joined the others down stage. The number ended with a percussion duel between Griffith on washboard and the twins on floor toms, as sheer joy emanated from every corner of the room.
Opening act Torres came out for an oldie — the heartbreaking rocker “Again Today.” Though hearing Carlile sing, “because I’m your hero and you’re my weakness” summed up a lot of what the evening was about, the next moment did so even more. For “Beginning to Feel the Years,” the group went off mic at the front edge of the stage. Carlile explained that they’d wanted to bring the Pin Drop Tour to the Ryman, but they thought it might be too big. She wanted to find out for sure. Audience members hushed each other so that everyone could revel in the magic.
Standing alone and telling the story behind “That Year,” Carlile said that her teenage rebellion consisted of becoming a Southern Baptist, much to the dismay of her parents. Her moral compass became “What would Loretta Lynn do?” But it caused her to turn her back in judgment of a friend who committed suicide. Years later, a dream led to the writing of “That Year” and, she hopes, his forgiveness. She stayed solo for the better part of “I Belong to You,” until the band chimed in, along with guest harmonies from her sister Tiffany and her wife Catherine, whom she thanked with a high five and a kiss, respectively.
The final stretch of the band’s two-hour performance included the rousing “Wherever Is Your Heart,” the rambunctious “Mainstream Kid” (during which friend-of-band Susan Tanner did her damnedest to recreate her starring role from the video), and the raucous “Raise Hell.” Closing out the main set, Carlile and company worked through a glorious rendering of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” tacking on a big rock ending that found her crashing cymbals and running laps.
Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” blew open the encore only to have it hush and bellow back again with “Pride and Joy” before ending on the beautifully bittersweet note of the Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City.”
And that was that… except it wasn’t.
Bows were taken. Instruments were stowed. Musicians were exited. But Carlile remained, yelling to the boys off stage, “One more!” before telling the audience, “I can’t leave well enough alone. I can’t quit you, Ryman.” No one there wanted the show to end, least of all Brandi Carlile.
And, so, “Turpentine” closed the evening. When it came time for the three-part group harmony sing-along, Carlile said to the standing crowd, “You know what to do.” And they did. Each third of the room took up their part and brought it all home. Even after the band finally called it a night and the house lights were up to full, the audience carried on singing in harmonic unison, “Oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh,” as they filtered out of the pews… at least until the sound guy cranked up the exit music and rained on this particular love-filled parade.
At some point during the show, a guy in the rafters shouted, “How are you so good?!” It’s something everyone in the room wondered along with him.
She just is.
“The Stranger at My Door”
“Hard Way Home”
“That Wasn’t Me”
“The Things I Regret”
“Again Today” (with Torres)
“Beginning to Feel the Years”
“I Belong to You”
“Wherever Is Your Heart”
“The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac cover)
“Going to California” (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Pride and Joy”
“Murder in the City” (Avett Brothers cover)