As if her frequent visits to the Twin Cities over the past decade hadn’t already won her local favor. As if booking a three-night stand in Minneapolis to top off her year on the road wasn’t already special enough. As if her riveting, passionate voice hadn’t already bowled the crowd over numerous times in the first 90 minutes of the first show.
As if she had to do anything else to earn her Twin Cities audience’s fervent display of love Thursday night at the State Theatre, Brandi Carlile ended the opening night of her Minneapolis run with a cleverly planned, action-packed encore that was above-and-beyond original and memorable. Most of the 2,500 fans walked away with downright giddy looks on their faces because of it.
Saving the exact details of that finale till deeper into this review to not spoil it for fans attending Friday and Saturday night — assuming/hoping she’ll repeat it — let’s just say Carlile took full advantage of the historic theater’s unique assets.
This three-night fix from the Seattle area singer/songwriter is itself something of a seized opportunity.
Like Wilco, who put on its own year-ending concert trilogy last year at the Palace, Carlile claims the Twin Cities as one of her best touring markets. She’s received heavy airplay locally from both the pre-Top-40-formatted Cities 97 and 89.3 the Current, the latter of which is even going to broadcast Friday’s performance at the State live on air and online.
Unlike Wilco, though, Carlile didn’t dig too deep into her discography and mix up her set list a whole lot Thursday. And for good reason: She’s touring behind her most thoroughly compelling album to date, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” the songs from which anchored the performance.
Following an elegant opening montage from her string quartet — another resource she fully utilized Thursday — Carlile and her inseparable/indistinguishable twin-sibling musical partners, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, took the stage together and launched into a richly harmonized version of “Every Time I Hear That Song.” It was the first of nine songs offered from the latest album.
A few of the new tunes already turned into show-stopping highlights. First came “The Mother,” a song inspired by her 4-year-old daughter that drew sighs and laughs from audience members: “The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep,” Carlile sang. “She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car.”
While “The Mother” was played all acoustic, “Sugartooth” and “The Joke” came a few songs later and were given full-volume, ornately arranged treatments. The thick musical layering didn’t drown out the new tunes’ strong lyrical messages, though; a plea for prison reform in the rootsier former song and a rally against bullies and overly powerful men in the timely latter song.
“I need to hear the words sung back to me,” Carlile said before “The Joke,” a request that was dutifully filled.
Joking and often chatting between songs — “Everywhere else feels tepid to me if you want to feel cold,” she said of playing Minneapolis this time of year — Carlile maintained an intimate vibe throughout the show that (until the encore) peaked with her older favorite “The Eye,” an impressive new take on “A Case of You,” which she recently performed at a tribute to Joni Mitchell in Toronto attended by Mitchell herself. Then her own very Joni-like, epic piano ballad, “Party of One,” made for a spellbinding finale pre-encore.
SPOILER ALERT: As for that encore, it started with Carlile and the Hanseroth brothers perched in one of the State’s decorative balconies overlooking the audience, where they delivered a ukulele-only version of “Beginning to Feel the Years.” Then they returned to the stage for an ultra-spirited, loudly rocking version of “Hold Out Your Hand,” which turned even rowdier as the house lights were turned on to figuratively and literally light up the crowd “Born to Run”-style.
And wait, there’s more: Then Carlile had all the theater’s lights turned down to total darkness as she brought out the sweet-sounding, harmonious twang-folk opening duo the Secret Sisters. Together, they brought the theater down to a goosebump-inducing hush with a microphone-less, a cappella version of “Amazing Grace.”
Talk about leading you home; never mind that Minneapolis is only a home-away-from home for the truly amazing Carlile.