Show Review: Brandi Carlile and Katie Herzig at The Fillmore, 10/20/09

by Dakin Hardwick on October 21, 2009

Nope, not a still from a performance on Hee Haw that was lip synced.

Nope, not a still from a performance on Hee Haw that was lip synced.

I have difficulty, sometimes, when it comes to getting out to do certain things that are common. I rarely see movies or plays because the numerous showings mean that I don’t have to pinpoint a particular time and day to do it, which inevitably means it doesn’t happen. The same often happens with touring musicians that come around a lot. Brandi Carlile is one of those artists. San Francisco has rarely gone more than a year without her coming to town, and more often than not, it’s closer to every six months. So, of course, I look at my schedule and decide it’s inconvenient for me to see her this time around, so I’ll just catch her next time. I’ve put her off for about for years, and tonight I finally decided to stop stalling and check her out.

Katie Herzig opened the show, a woman that I was only peripherally familiar with before the show, primarily through a song that appeared on one of the Grey’s Anantomy soundtracks, which were a common in-store play discs at the record store where I used to work. I found that my focus used to shift towards the music whenever her track came on, but I never really learned more about her until this show.

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Herzig was incredibly energetic, and her voice was strong. From the moment she opened her mouth, she reminded me of a younger, more energized version of Lucinda Williams. The first song was good, but didn’t blow me away quite yet. For that, we had the third song of the set, “How The West Was Won.” Her guitar player, Jordan Brooke Hamlin, switched over to ukulele, and her drummer, cello player, and bassist turned in to a pulsating rhythm machine. The song reminded me of Ravel’s “Bolero” recast in the old west. From this song on, her set took on a whole new life. She is a rare singer/songwriter that seemed to concentrate very heavily on the arrangements. “How The West…” wasn’t the only nod to 20th century minimalism of her set. She used the fact that she had both a bassist and a cellist to create thick and complex low end that often reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi, except instead of a violins and chanting, we had drums, guitar, and lyrical singing. The effort placed in song craft was amazing.

She also had a secret weapon in the band, namely the aforementioned Jordan Brooke Hamlin. She primarily played lead guitar, but when she actually played it, it rarely sounded like the same instrument Joe Satriani plays. She used the guitar as a mock theremin in one number, reverbed it out and helped make a song sound more like the kind of country song that David Lynch would write. Later she played some clarinet, and, most impressively, she pulled out an accordion, knocked on one side while squeezing it, and it sound like she was playing an analog synth. Herzig herself was funny and personable, and understood the art of the being the opening act by keeping the songs short and quick, and injecting them with enough character to remain memorable, but she also understood the reason why the bulk of the people bought tickets.

Brandi Carlile then came on, and opened the show with the song “Oh Dear.” Her entire band gathered around a single microphone, singing some of the tightest harmonies I have ever heard on stage, and accompanied by a single ukulele. It was an excellent opener, and set the stage properly for what was to come.

After that, she jumped in to full on rock mode, and spent most of the early part of her set without her guitar, opting to let her band show off while she bounced around the stage, and also giving her room to concentrate on her vocals, which were actually more potent than on record, and she never missed a note.

Just a word of note to those readers that have never heard Ms. Carlile’s voice before, it’s very unique and beautiful. She sings with the boldest quiver I have ever heard, and the only way one can comprehend this is by listening to her. The only other singer in pop music that she shares a class with is Jeff Buckley.

So, after driving through three uptempo and triumphant songs, one a piece off each of her full length records, she pulled a move that most people would save towards the end of the show. She set down her microphone, and stepped to the front of the stage. Her guitarist and bassist pulled out acoustics, while her cello player scooted in closer, while her drummer brought up a shaker and a tambourine, but held the beat primarily using her right foot and the stage. They performed the song “Dying Day,” off of her latest album in this manner, and she managed to fill the room sans amplification.

The next portion of the set was three acoustic numbers, performed as a full band. The band stayed at the front of the stage, but sat on stools. It was another portion where she did one song from each record, and it was well done. Before the sang the song happy, which she dedicated to her great grandmother, an avid Elvis Presley fan, she confessed to the fact that she spent a portion of her early career working as a back up singer for an Elvis impersonator. It was a silly moment in the midst of some serious songs, but also helped show us where her voice and style may have evolved from. She is an interesting mix, ranging from Indigo Girls-inspired folk, to classic Grand Ole Opry music, to mid 90’s britpop.

After the acoustic set, she played a song of the new record called “Dreams,” which almost sounded like a Supergrass cover, but played with the kind of emotional intensity that Supergrass never were able to muster. Her intensity was so great that people actually starting fainting in the crowd.

At this point in the review, I need to complain a bit. When the first person fainted, it was a smaller girl, and she didn’t go down very hard. A few of us from the audience helped her up, and moved her to a bench. She was thankful, but nobody on staff gave any notice. At one point, word got out to the greeter, and he came by to check on her. A few moments later, an older man fainted, and we couldn’t get him up. His friend gave him water, and everyone around also helped out. We were far enough away from the stage that the performers had no way of knowing what was going on, but we were too deep to easily get him out. He sat on the floor, while everyone around home was looking for a staff member. Nobody.

So I slipped out, oddly enough during a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” I found the greeter again, and took him to the gentlemen, who was sitting cross legged on the floor with his friend. He described the person to find, the head of security, and that to tell him what happened, and he’ll help him. The security guys stood there for a few moments while he was sitting on the floor, and instead of offering him medical help, or finding him a safe place to sit, they just left him there moments after dismissing the greeter back to his post. They didn’t even bring any ice to the guy who fainted! I guess I don’t know what to do when somebody faints, but I’m pretty sure absolutely nothing isn’t the way to go.

I felt bad for the band, not knowing what was going on, but the crowd was great. We basically opened up a large space on the floor for him to get air, and kept it throughout the rest of the show. Brandi Carlile fans are really good people.

She divided the crowd in to three parts for the song “Turpentine,” and gave the three portions of the crowd some pretty complex vocal parts during the song, and enough people comprehended it, that we actually sounded pretty good. So, not only are Brandi Carlile fans incredibly nice people that work well under pressure, they are also beautiful singers.

The main set closed with ‘The Story,” Carlile’s only charting single. (#75 in America!) It was a slightly different arrangement, opening up a bit more timidly than the original, but transformed in to the heaviest song of the night. It was the only time Carlile played a guitar solo, and it was fuzzy and intense. If you’re only going to do something once, you might as well do it like you mean it.

She encored with a medley of “Jackson” and “Folsom Prison Blues” that got the gentleman that fainted off the floor and re-invigorated. I try not to use the word “barnstormer” lightly, but this was, by all accounts, a barnstormer. The next song in the encore was the Beatles “Let It Be,” although a great song, was the only thing mildly disappointing about the show. The didn’t really add to the song, just let it played it exactly like the original. Not bad, but unnecessary.

It felt the show was going to end here, but she brought out Katie Herzig’s cello player for a light version of “Pride & Joy,” which is a song that I would rarely describe as fun, but the rapport on stage was infectious.

She closed the show with a cover of Gary Jules’ version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World,” Carlile on piano and her cello player accompanying her. They walked of to a dark, looped cello refrain, expressing great thanks to the crowd, and truly capping the show off in the best way possible.

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The performance will be repeated 10/21 at the Fillmore. You should go.

Creep was played after Dreams.

Creep was played after Dreams.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Buck Turgidson October 21, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Nice review of a great, great show. I am tempted to go back tonight, if it’s not sold out.

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Gordon Elgart October 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm

About not giving the ice to the fainter, I know that the security is trained to NOT give anything to someone who faints, not even water. They should have just raced over to Rock Med, though, who volunteer at every Fillmore show.

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Dakin Hardwick October 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I was aware of Rock Med, and suggested they help him there, and they said no. I tried to bring him as well, and the fainter insisted on sitting on the floor.

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Gordon Elgart October 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm

You never bring anyone to Rock Med. Never. You don’t move a sick or injured person.You go get Rock Med and bring them to the fainter. Next time you see something like that, feel free to go behind the merch stand to grab someone.

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