A new nugget of wisdom from Brandi Carlile: When you start the show and it feels like end of the show, you’re in for a hell of a night.
As the veteran singer-songwriter took the stage at The Mann last night, the crowd was jammed into the amphitheater seats and sprawled across the lawn, enjoying the breeze of a majestic late summer night. The gritty one-two punch of “Broken Horses” into “Mainstream Kid” had folks on their feet, and their screams sounded massive in the legendary acoustics of the venue’s shed.
“We are so excited to be singing for this many people,” Carlile told the crowd, and clearly they were excited to be sung to. In many ways, this show was the latest high in an artist-audience relationship that’s been building for 15 years.
The night got under way with a opening performance from New York blues rock ripper Celisse; she played an early opening set as the crowd filed in, but we’d hear more from her later.
The sublime Allison Russell followed with the breathtaking fusion of poetry, folk, gospel, and blues heard on last year’s stellar Outside Child album. Russell’s music is tough but delicate, imbued with both pain and hope, and her band — Chauntee and Monique Ross of SistaStrings, Larissa Maeteo on cello, Joy Clark on acoustic guitar, Mandy Fer of Sway Wild on electric guitar — rendered its songs with nuance and grace. Though the haunting lyrical trauma of “Persephone” brought the crowd to a hush, the uplifting “Nightflyer” had them dancing in the aisles.
As Carlile’s set got under way, she ran though a comprehensive history of playing Philly. Her first gig in town was at The Tin Angel, later followed by World Cafe Live, The Electric Factory and more.
“We’ve been coming to Philadelphia for so long, and this shit is crazy,” she said, looking out at the full house at The Mann.
She sent a chilling performance of “The Story” out to the organizers raising money for War Child at the show. The song was punctuated by a string section solo — something we’d love to see become more of a thing — and Carlile later said of her players, “They sound like an entire symphony orchestra, I cannot believe they are four people sometimes.”
With SistaStrings reprising their spot on the riser, the section was fleshed out by Josh Neumann on cello and Kyleen King on viola. They mixed spectacularly with pianist Philip Towns, drummer Matt Chamberlain, and percussionist Jeff Haynes.
And, of course, Carlile’s day one collaborators: Phil Hanseroth on bass and Tim Hanseroth on guitar, aka “the twins” who hammed it up on an intro jam in the orchestra seats, backed Carlile with emotive harmonies on “The Eye,” joined her at the piano for a breathtaking “This Time Tomorrow,” and everything in between.
Like Carlile’s best songs, the show was remarkably dynamic, the tearjerking motherhood ballad “Evangeline” bouncing into the captivating rock moods of “Mother Werewolf.” Her knack for expertly-chosen cover songs was on full display, with a high drama version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” dissolving into its chord-change cousin “Creep” by Radiohead; Celisse joined both shredding on guitar.
“Right On Time,” the song that gives Carlile’s 2021 album In These Silent Days its title, hit Freddy Mercury highs with its personal and introspective perspective; “Sinners, Saints and Fools” turned more global in what Carlile described as an examination of “borders, and how we should find a way to rethink them not just in this world but the next one.” And a show-stopping take on “The Joke” took the main set to its peak.
From there, what do you do for an encore? First, Carlile honored history and one of her heroes with an amped up cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” for the anniversary of the 1969 festival. Then, confirming her “solid person through and through” rep, she used the curtain call to bring her openers back into the spotlight.
Celisse and her band took the stage to a much bigger audience than they’d played for earlier in the night to rage to the gnarly boogie of their song “Crazy,” with Carlile joyfully joining in on backing vocals. Allison Russell and her band popped out as well for a performance of “You’re Not Alone,” her new collab single with Carlile. Where many headliners of her stature might leave things at offering openers a gig, a green room, and maybe some catering, Carlile involves her tourmates throughout the night, a much more rewarding experience for everybody involved.
A singalong to The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” followed, then a soaring performance of the clap-driven “Hold Out Your Hand.” And finally, a tender “Over The Rainbow” to close the night with goosebumps and the singer-songwriter’s parting words “We will never ever forget this show.”
Same, Brandi Carlile. Same.