Even with the hype of a swanky new room with a historic name, Brandi Carlile was the real event. Brimming with charisma and flanked by her steadfast bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Carlile wailed and belted her way through a jubilant 17-song set last night in the official opening show of the new Fillmore Minneapolis. After just a few songs, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there wasn’t a band behind her (as there will be for follow-up Fillmore shows tonight and tomorrow).
“We’ve been coming here for 20 years and I still know some of you from that very first show,” Carlile declared. That same feeling of grateful familiarity extended past the stage and into the Fillmore at large. The beautiful new venue flexed its style and sound with a hiccup-free, if chilly, grand opening.
Half an hour after doors opened, plenty of good patches of floor within a few yards of the stage were available. What’s more, those within spitting distance of the stage were treated to a most welcome surprise: good sound! Bravo to the sound engineer that graced the front of the stage with generous front fill speakers, giving the front few rows sound as intimate as the view.
Viable sightlines for me, a person who’s admittedly on the smaller side at 5’5”, dropped off pretty quickly as I worked my way back from the second row, though the same could be said for most standing shows at any venue. The Fillmore remains par for the course in that respect.
While the venue happily didn’t feel as uncomfortably packed as some venues can when they’re sold out, the Fillmore’s design also seemed to hamper concertgoers’ efforts to get in the door, despite an efficient process of ID, security, and ticket scanning. Hopefully, as the Fillmore continues to sell out many of the shows in their first months, more steps can be taken to alleviate bottlenecks at entry.
Even if they had to wait a little too long in the bitter cold, fans couldn’t have been greeted with a warmer performance. Carlile knows that when she plays in Minnesota — and as often as she does — she has her audience all the way. She harnessed that affection and uses it to explore her entire catalog, dipping her toes into songs as far back as album one (“Follow,” “What Can I Say” from her self-titled debut) and just grazing the latest (only “Sugartooth” and “The Joke” from By The Way, I Forgive You.) Rowdy setlist staples like “Raise Hell,” “The Story,” and “The Things I Regret” hardly flagged in an acoustic setting, carried by the gusto of Carlile and the twins.
Carlile’s performances — all five I’ve seen thus far — eventually work their way down to a moment where she’s left alone onstage, with a guitar or a piano, only to wallop us with whatever feeling she still has tucked in her back pocket. Carlile used that space to personally tribute two of her heroes: first, Tanya Tucker’s comeback ballad “Bring My Flowers Now” (which she also produced and co-wrote) and followed by Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Carlile’s joy at being able to support and run with the women she admires — from the Highwomen, to Tucker, to her Girls Just Wanna Weekend festivals, to opener Courtney Marie Andrews — is palpable.
Special edition posters, emblazoned with Carlile’s face and the dates of these grand opening shows, were available on the way out the door. It was a sweet reminder of the singularity of the occasion, perhaps as close to the ideal opening of a venue as was possible: a beloved performer who made the room disappear.
Opener Courtney Marie Andrews played a short solo set of of nostalgia-laced songs, her lilting and resonant voice gliding through the room. She has Carlile’s ear and support, and I can imagine it might not be too long before she finds more.