Brandi Carlile is on top of the world, and nowhere was this more apparent than on stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last Wednesday night. Carlile took the intimate venue by storm after finding out her newest studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, broke into the top ten on the Billboard 200. In a genuine and triumphant performance featuring songs spanning the entirety of Carlile’s rugged career, with stories, sing-alongs, and even an engagement between two audience members, Carlile and her loyal band gave the club of Brooklyn faithful a dominating and unforgettable performance that left the sold-out crowd electrified and eager for more.
Carlile and her band, inclusive of long-time collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth, cellist Josh Newman and drummer Brian Griffin, took the stage without an opener to a rapturous applause. With anticipation and excitement hanging heavy in the air, Carlile started the show quietly, finger-picking her guitar and singing the opening lines from “The Stranger at My Door.” In sharp contrast to her last New York-area performance, an all-acoustic gig at the Society for Ethical Culture, on this night Carlile and her band were fully armed with electric-guitars and amplifiers. As the song built the crowd cheered wildly at every opportune moment, between every swell and growl of Carlile’s voice, and again at the end of the song, when they welcomed her back to Brooklyn and simultaneously expressed all kinds of love and devotion with a warm, lengthy and loud ovation.
“Hello Brooklyn! It’s been a long time since we played a show like this in your neighborhood!” Carlile exclaimed. The roar from the crowd made clear she had the audience wrapped around her finger, undoubtedly the product of her years of touring and engaging with her fan base in a way that goes beyond simply playing music. Throughout the course of the night, Carlile and her band played fan favorites, told lengthy stories about how songs came to be written, and even took requests from the audience. After excitedly sharing the news about her newest album charting in the top ten, the band eased into fan favorite “The Story,” one of her most popular songs, with virtually the entire concert hall on backup. Following a pair of new songs, Carlile then asked the audience for song suggestions. She agreed to play the request “Dying Day,” so long as the audience sang along with her. Launching into another fan’s request for “Have You Ever,” she enthusiastically inquired, “Do you want to hear some yodeling?”
While the show was full of memorable moments, the majority of the setlist was dedicated to The Firewatcher’s Daughter. These songs shone brightly in a live setting, the very personal lyrics becoming even more compelling with Carlile’s emotive vocals and her bandmates’ passionate performances. Drawing the audience in before the quiet “Beginning to Feel the Years,” Carlile expressed her love and gratitude to her bandmates for playing beside her for so many years. After bringing the audience to tears with the incredibly personal “That Year” (from 2009’s Giving Up the Ghost), Carlile asked rhetorically if she could play the love song “I Belong To You.” A highlight from her newest album, the tune seemed even more beautiful in a live setting, and the message conveyed in the song was amplified by a proposal in the audience as Carlile sweetly sang the refrain “…I belong to you now,” and the song built to its climax.
The album’s first two singles were played back-to-back to close the main set, starting with upbeat and optimistic “Wherever Is Your Heart.” After leaving the audience buzzed with euphoria, Carlile and the Hanseroth twins gathered around a single microphone to perform “The Eye.” The audience joined in chorus to help the band on this slower acoustic song, the first single from The Firewatcher’s Daughter, before Carlile and her band left the stage for the encore break. While the crowd was pleasantly raucous throughout the show, the quieter moments and sing-alongs showcased the connection between Carlile and her fan-base. “I love you’s” and compliments rained down on Carlile for the entirety of the show, but the room was practically silent during her stories, and her audience knew all of the lyrics to her songs, even those newly released on The Firewatcher’s Daughter.
Early on in the show Carlile warned the crowd, “You are going to make me lose my mind!” When she and her band returned to the stage for the encore, it appeared just that had happened. After opening with the spirited “Pride and Joy,” Carlile’s guitar rang out, Griffin transitioned to a heavy rhythmic beat, and the Hanseroth brothers carried the band into a very special addition to the setlist: a heavy, shredding cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Mid-song, stage lights flashing, Carlile popped open a bottle of Jameson, taking a swig and passing the bottle to her bandmates before filling the cups of several fans in the front row, perfectly complementing the festive (and altogether boozy) atmosphere.
Carlile and her bandmates closed the show with the growling “Raise Hell,” and “Murder in the City,” a cover of The Avett Brothers and the twilight track on her new album. Before her final song, Carlile proudly declared, “This is not just one of my favorite shows, this is one of my best days.” The vehement cheer from the audience affirmed their agreement as the bond between this singer-songwriter and her rabid following grew that much stronger. As the room emptied and the electrified crowd dispersed into the chilly Brooklyn night, many must’ve been left with the same impression: Brandi Carlile is on top of the world. After such a special and electrifying performance, who could possibly deny it?