The sounds of a creaking door, haunted footsteps and rumbling thunder filled the Palace Theatre before singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile’s show on Saturday night. A lone cellist played an eerie solo before Carlile and the rest of her band appeared onstage, cloaked in shadows.
In front of a backdrop of smoke tendrils and curling flames, Carlile and her band launched into “The Stranger at My Door” from her new album, “The Firewatcher’s Daughter.” The muscular tune had an epic, cinematic feel—like the foreboding theme to a blood-spattered spaghetti Western flick.
It was a dramatic entrance. At the end of the song, Carlile raised her guitar in triumph and then tipped her Western hat to the crowd in a thankful gesture. The crowd, who cheered loudly and called out “Brandi” throughout the night, roared.
Carlile’s gutsy, soaring voice is its own instrument of drama, and she moved right into “The Story,” which starts as a ballad before veering mid-song into a thunderous rocker. It’s one of Carlile’s best-known songs, due to its airing in a Toyota commercial during the 2008 Olympics, from her sophomore release.
It takes some gumption to start a show with your most recognized song, but Carlile has plenty of that. It’s what made her performance so thrilling. She took the crowd on an electrifying two-hour ride, where she frequently shifted the configuration of the band and tempo of the songs for maximum, dramatic effect.
“This is the second night of our tour. Portland, Maine, got our mistakes. You get our determination,” she said from the stage.
Carlile began her career performing in Seattle music clubs with guitarist Tim Hanseroth and his twin brother, bassist Phil Hanseroth. The twins form the core of her band today and added tight-knit harmonies.
For “The Eye,” Carlile and the brothers stood alone in the spotlight and sang together on the delicate, twangy tune. During “That Wasn’t Me,” a soulful ballad, the pair harmonized beautifully at the microphone while Carlile played the piano. Her full band kicked in loud as Carlile’s voice surged to the ceiling on “Again Today.” And on “Beginning to Feel the Years,” Carlile took advantage of the theater’s acoustics to sing and play unamplified at the front of the stage, drawing a standing ovation.
There was nothing not to like about this show, from Carlile’s gracious personality to her band’s ability to shift from a quiet ballad like “That Year” into full-bore mode with a thunderous sound that would fill stadiums. They used that arena-worthy punch to great effect on an encore of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” during which Carlile twirled in circles like Stevie Nicks, holding her cowboy hat in the air.
One day after Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit brought soul-filled country-rock to The Egg, another act hailing from Alabama’s Muscle Shoals played an Albany stage and displayed the influence of the area’s legendary recording studios. Raspy-voiced singer Anderson East, a native of Athens, Alabama, fronted a strutting six-piece band that warmed up the crowd with raw soul and party-time R&B.
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