Brandi Carlile at The Beacon Theatre

When Brandi Carlile started announcing the dates for the tour for her new album, by the way I forgive you, she started by announcing 2 or 3 dates including two (which eventually became three) nights at The Beacon. I decided I was going to go ahead and buy tickets to see her in NYC because the last few times she has toured through the DC area I’ve been out of town. Since I didn’t know what the DC dates were going to be I was afraid if I waited the NYC shows would sell out and then I wouldn’t be able to go to the DC date. Turns out I was fairly accurate on that since the original DC date falls on the day of our annual Preakness party. They have added a second night that I could go to, but going to DC on a school night is a lot.

In the process of buying these tickets I apparently did not get my dates right because I meant to buy a ticket for the Friday night show, but a few weeks before the show I got an email telling me my ticket for Thursday night was in the mail at which point I had a minor freak out. I had already bought theatre tickets for Saturday so I was going to have to stay in the city until then. Since the friend I was staying with kindly offered to put me up another night I decided to change my train ticket to Thursday, snag a ticket for the luckily not quite sold out at that point Friday show and go both nights. My only regret at this point is that I didn’t stay for the third night. I feel like I left something unfinished only going to two of the three nights.

I am not someone who normally joins fan clubs, but I joined Brandi’s because the price to join went to The Looking Out Foundation, the organization started by Brandi and her wife Catherine that goes to support a lot of causes I believe in. I figured I was donating to something I would support even if I wasn’t getting anything in return. It was just a bonus that it gets me some free bonus songs and access to pre-sales. Since I bought the Thursday night ticket with a pre-sale code I got a first row seat dead center. I have never had a seat that good for a concert and probably never will again. Friday night I was had to slum it all the way back in the 9th row behind some woman who annoyingly recorded the entire show. I would really love to ban everyone’s cell phones and cameras at concerts.

Anyway Thursday was interesting because I was surrounded by a lot of Brandi super fans. I should have seen that coming because of course everyone else in those seats would also be a part of the fan club.  They all seemed to know each other from interacting on the fan club forums, which I have never done. I don’t obsess over things like that. I did feel somewhat like an imposter when the woman next to me was asking me who I was and trying to introduce me to all the other people from the fan site and I was like ummm I never go there so you have no idea who I am and I don’t know anyone else. Comparatively I don’t have to feel like a crazy fan for seeing Brandi 4 times this year.

The shows on Thursday and Friday night pretty much had the same set list with the only difference being the one cover song they played (Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” on Thursday and the Led Zeppelin version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Friday). I figured they would be because they are playing every song from the new album along with a handful of songs from previous albums. I didn’t mind one bit though because Brandi Carlile is the one artist/band (I never know what to say since it really is a band with her and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, but it also feels weird that the band name is her name) for whom I have liked every new album even more than I’ve liked the last, which means by the way I forgive you is now my favorite Brandi Carlile album. It also means that it’s my dirty little secret as a Brandi fan that The Story, which is her seminal album, is my least favorite album. I’ve listened to the songs on the new album enough since it came out at the end of February that it already feels like those songs are a part of me.

They are touring with the biggest band ever this go around. I was curious what they were going to do because there is a lot of orchestration on many of the songs on the new album. The answer is that in a addition to a drummer and pianist/french horn player they are touring with a string quartet. It gives the songs such a great richness and adds just another facet to the incredible range of music from beautiful orchestral songs, to foot stomping folk rock, to flat out rock jams that Brandi plays.

One of the older songs they played was “Raise Hell”, which I was very happy about because it is my favorite song to see them play live. It is just a foot stompin’, hand clappin’ joyous good time.

One of the things they do any time they play in a nice old theatre that has great acoustics like The Beacon does is they go off mic and just the Twins and Brandi sing a beautiful song acoustic. This time it was another one of their older songs, “Cannonball”. That’s definitely not something I’ll see at the two outdoor venues I’ll be seeing them at later this year.

As for songs from the new album, I love them all. Don’t worry I’m not going to write about them all, just a few for which I have something specific to say. As the title of the album indicates there are a lot of songs about forgiveness on there which feels so needed right now. They started the set with “Every Time I Hear that Song”, which contains the lyric “by the way I forgive you” where the title of the album comes from. That chorus is my favorite thing on the entire album.

“The Joke”, which was the first single from the album while a beautiful song is one I have a hard time with because as nice as it is to think all the horrible people in the world will get their comeuppance I don’t think it’s true. While it’s a nice thought and something I wish were the case, I’m too much of a cynic to buy the message of this song.

I’m not a parent but watching my friends have kids over the past many years has given me a decent perspective on what being a parent is like and “The Mother” is the single best song I’ve ever heard that describes what being a parent is like. On Thursday night I saw the woman sitting next to me had a photo of a little girl who is probably about the same age as Brandi’s 4-year old daughter, Evangeline, set as the wallpaper on her phone. This song must have really hit her because she sobbed through the entire thing. Also speaking of being parents on Friday night (not during this song) one of Phil’s daughters ran out on stage and gave him a hug between songs. It was super cute. Brandi said they have a rule that if their kids are there and they want a hug from mom or dad they have permission to come get one even if mom and dad are “working”.

The song they’re using as their encore and final song is “Hold Out Your Hand”.The lyrics of the chorus start, “hold out your hand/take hold of mine and then/round and round we go”. Whenever I listen to this song I picture when you do that thing where you hold hands with someone crisscrossed and then spin round and round. It’s a very joyous image and I love it. I haven’t quite parsed the real meaning of the full lyrics. Something about outrunning the devil or death or something or maybe not that at all. Doesn’t matter because like all art, once it’s out in the world it means whatever the people consuming it interpret it to mean. It feels like the perfect song to end the show to because to me it seems like a song about taking each others hands, joining together, and going out to fight the good fight. On Thursday night as I mentioned I was surrounded by a lot of super fans who already knew each other and knew this was going to be the final song. They agreed before the start of the show that when the chorus started and talked about taking each others’ hands we were all going to join hands, which was kind of fun.

Brandi is friends with Pete Souza, who was Obama’s official White House photographer for all 8 years of his presidency. He was at the shows and came out to sing along on the final song and of course snap some pictures while he was out on stage. He posted one from each night to his Instagram. Since I was front row center you can actually see me in the one he took on Thursday (although it’s only half of me since the woman next to me has her arms raised and is covering me up). Now I can say that Obama’s photographer has taken a photo of me too.

Brandi Carlile Pete Souza photo

It was an amazing two nights and I can already hardly wait until I get to see her again, which unless I decide to trek down to DC in May will be in July in upstate New York when she participates in my dream concert and co-headlines with Jason Isbell. I will undoubtedly be seeing her at the Newport Folk Festival the week after that as well. They have already announced so many people I want to see for that festival that I said I might skip Brandi since I will have already seen her three times, but after this weekend I know there is no way I’m doing that, especially since I still go back and listen to her 2015 Newport Folk Festival set on the regular when I need to feel hope. That was just a few weeks after same sex marriage became legal and she was thrilled that her family could now be legal something she thought would never happen. Everything felt so joyous and hopeful back then before everything fell apart. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of how that day felt, and there’s no way I’ll miss out on whatever happens this year.

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