Lately, I’ve learned a lesson. That pack of singer-songwriters I heard on the radio as a kid? There’s so much more to them than I thought. At Eaux Claires, Indigo Girls charmed me, skipping familiar hit “Closer To Fine” and playing their 1994 album Swamp Ophelia with verve and heart. Alanis Morissette may have been overplayed in my house, but that doesn’t make Jagged Little Pill less amazing. And, as I learned yesterday, Brandi Carlile is the artist behind runaway hits like “The Story” and so much more.
Playing to thousands of fans, Carlile brought joy and youthful energy to the Cabooze Outdoor Plaza. Longtime band members/co-writers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, or “the twins,” as they’re more commonly known, sang next to Carlile. Phil hardly stopped grinning, throwing out dozens of endearing point-to-a-fan/big nod/thumbs-up sequences. Carlile’s vibes didn’t differ; she seemed delighted to perform, flashing peace signs, dance moves, and cries of, “Yeah, man!” Last night found the alternative country singer marching, stomping, and screaming on stage, giving one of the most fun concerts I’ve ever seen.
The headliner’s intro got a little help from the breeze along the Cabooze Outdoor Plaza. Thunderstorm noises played over a blue backdrop, and footstep noises channeled “Thriller.” Meanwhile, the wind grabbed cymbals and tossed them clanging together. When Carlile and her four musicians took the stairs, the crowd cheered. The band started “The Stranger At My Door,” a Firewatcher’s Daughter song clearly touched by Johnny Cash.
Carlile’s 19-song set featured seven songs from that new album, three of which she performed at the Current when she stopped in town last December. She also mixed in aforementioned hits “The Story” and “Turpentine,” which both enjoyed hearty crowd singalongs. The encore held two covers: Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” and the Avett Brothers’s “Murder in the City,” which Carlile recorded for The Firewatcher’s Daughter.
The biggest surprise came on song four; Carlile paused the show to bring 11-year-old fan Lucas on stage. “I can’t ignore you—you’re holding a ‘Brandi Rocks’ sign,” she said. “Do you know ‘Keep Your Heart Young’?”
Lucas did know the Bear Creek song—very well, in fact. “It’s not on the setlist, but I’m mesmerized,” Carlile said. With a sweet, playful performance, Lucas and Carlile took the Cabooze audience to extremely adorable territory.
In the styles of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, & Nash, “Our band doesn’t really have a lead singer,” Carlile said while introducing “The Eye.” Tim Hanseroth wrote most of the song, which was a concert highlight.
Sitting down at her piano, Carlile grinned. “Is it Sunday evening? Maybe it’s time for a little bit of church.” Christianity became a main theme of the night; Carlile talked through her Southern Baptist upbringing and wore a silver cross. All three acts actually mentioned angels in their lyrics.
Marriage equality also came up several times; “I got married,” said Carlile “to a lady!” During the next song “I Belong To You,” Carlile’s wife Catherine joined the band for a few moments, and Carlile’s sister Tiffany (who is also Phil Hanseroth’s wife) hopped on stage, as well.
The love did not stop there. Playing the Twin Cities frequently, Carlile told the crowd “You guys are like family to me. Minnesota is like my home—it’s like my second home.” She mused on how much she enjoyed playing a Minnesota show outdoors. And when winter turns our state ugly, Carlile urged us to “remember a beautiful day in August when we sang this song together.” Then, she played the opening “Wherever Is Your Heart” strums.
Carlile’s Uncle Sonny was a Minnesotan man, calling the “Up North” town of Waubun home. He passed away recently, but he left his great-niece a Gretsch guitar, and she pulled it out for “Mainstream Kid.” “Uncle Sonny was a rebel,” she cried. “This song is for him!”
“Minnesota is a place of faith and devotion and loving one’s neighbor,” closed Carlile during her three-song encore. After a night of three-part harmonies, insightful lyrics, and applause, it sure did feel like it.
Second opener Iron & Wine was the other big name on the bill, and Sam Beam (actually the only member of the band) played a stand-out set. The crowd’s response to his solo acoustic show wasn’t as warm as I wanted it to be, but the velvet-jacketed singer/songwriter still made it fun, joking around with audience members and even taking requests. “You guys were clapping a little fast,” he said after “Boy with a Coin,” and he mimed frantic guitar playing. “My fingers started smoking!”
Beam is a master of dynamics, swooping into crescendos and decrescendos with grace. Because of Beam’s flourishes, I barely recognized Talking Heads’s “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” when he played it, but the performance fascinated me (the song is on the new Sing Into My Mouth cover album, which Iron & Wine co-recorded with Band of Horses’s Ben Bridwell). Beam’s humility also inspired; “You guys are so good to me,” he said. When “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” triggered spontaneous time-keeping in the audience, he smiled. “My clappers are back—all right!”
A pair of birds caused a lovely scene while darting around the singer during jazzy, profound “Lovers’ Revolution.” Since he went on to mention birds in the lyrics of “Naked as We Came” and “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” it seems appropriate to apply that motif to the whole of Beam’s performance; fragile and quick, Iron & Wine’s acoustic tunes took wing.
Twangy, dimpled roots artist Anderson East joined his band for a fun opening performance, which was filled with confessional songs and gospel influence. Theatrical moments from long-haired guitarist “The Reverend” speckled the set—“This music not only moves, but it can remove,” he chanted, having just itemized common illnesses, including depression and athlete’s foot. Later, he reenacted Jesus’s John 5:8 miracle by quoting, “Pick up your mat and walk,” to East.
Before the band’s last song, the Reverend took center stage again, grabbing the mic. “Dearly beloved,” he monotoned, and I suddenly thought I was in for my third live Prince cover of the summer. (Nate Ruess’s version of “Let’s Go Crazy” took the first slot, followed by “Purple Rain” with TV On The Radio last Thursday.) But the spoken “Let’s Go Crazy” intro was just a tease. The Reverend paused near its end, and when audience members filled in the words, “You’re on your own,” he shook his head. “You are definitely not on your own,” he drawled. He told us we had brothers, sisters, and “kickass music to listen to in your car.” Then came the perfect moment to launch into Prince’s bouncy classic, but Anderson East’s Delilah single “Satisfy Me” played instead. (Maybe they’ll make good on their teasing when they play Chipotle’s Minneapolis Cultivate Festival on August 22.)
Iron & Wine
The Trapeze Swinger
Boy with a Coin
Low Light Buddy of Mine
This Must Be the Place
Bird Stealing Bread
Me and Lazurus
Such Great Heights (The Postal Service cover)
Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat
Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
Naked as We Came
Upward Over The Mountain
New song (featuring the lyric, “watching the sunlight leave”)
Flightless Bird, American Mouth
The Stranger At My Door
Hard Way Home
Keep Your Heart Young
Have You Ever
That Wasn’t Me
The Things I Regret
I Belong To You
Wherever Is Your Heart
Going to California (Led Zeppelin cover)
Pride and Joy
Murder in the City (The Avett Brothers cover)
Cecilia Johnson is studying English and Spanish at Hamline University. Her favorite things include short stories, chai tea, and Scandinavian pop.