The Music Farm
With a red bandana tucked in the back pocket of a pair black jeans, a curious snake tattoo on each shoulder, and a small cross around her neck, Brandi Carlile casually strode onto the Music Farm stage Thursday night and began banging on a drum in time with her bandmates. She would return to the drum several times when she wasn’t belting her heart out, stomping her feet, clapping, strumming guitar, playing piano, or smiling. But mostly, she was doing all of these things at once.
After opening with the rousing “Raise Hell” off her new record, Bear Creek, she said, “It’s been a long time, Charleston. I love this place, but this is only the second time we’ve been here. I remember it well. There were 120 people here, but it was amazing!” If I had to guess, many of those 120 people who saw Carlile before were there Thursday. After all, the Seattle native has a loyal following, especially among the lesbian community, for whom Carlile — an out lesbian who is engaged to her girlfriend — has become something of an icon.
On stage at the Farm, Carlile led her two collaborators, twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, and the rest of her tight band through several early highlights, including the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” before announcing to the crowd, “It’s been a long time since we took this big a risk. We used to do it at every show, so we’re going to totally unplug, and if you’re quiet, you’ll hear me all the way in the back. I’m going to sing real loud. I apologize to anyone I spit on.” With beautiful harmonies from her bandmates, she sang her classic “What Can I Say” in a haunting a cappella.
The band continued to showcase the new record before jumping into an impossibly strong rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with Carlile on piano. Thanks in part to her ability to pull off the song’s operatic harmonies, it was one of the coolest songs I’ve ever seen live.
Near the end of her set, I went to the men’s room and, even with a full Music Farm, there was not a single person in there — a testament to the power of Carlile’s stage personality and the devotion of her fans. As I walked out, I noticed it was also because the crowd was overwhelmingly female. D’oh.
Carlile and company finished strongly, with her rip-your-guts-out-and-stomp-on-them classic “The Story,” during which the crowd sang along to the refrain, “I was made for you.” At the end of the encore, Carlile sat at the piano and crooned her sorrowful, gorgeous current hit “That Wasn’t Me.” With an ever-present expression of concentrated contentment on her face, she overflowed with positive energy and seemed thrilled to be able to give her fans what they wanted: her.