Brandi Carlile Proves Bold & Tenacious at Portland Maine’s Thompson Point (SHOW REVIEW)

On August 27th, Brandi Carlile took the stage at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine, alongside her longtime musical companions, identical twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroff. “Hey everybody,” she called out to the several thousand folks in attendance. “I feel like a million bucks!”

There had been some concern since this show had originally been scheduled for the previous Friday. The day-of, Carlile had posted, “heartbroken to say I woke up today feeling horribly sick and I will not be able to perform this weekend.” Her illness wasn’t covid-related, she reassured her fans, and a video of her wife making her a nourishing chicken soup later appeared on her social media. 

Now in person, she was effusive with gratitude to the crowd for coming back. “I would expect nothing less from Portland, Maine,” she said in her shiny tan suit, the brothers on either side of her tall and grinning in brimmed hats and western duds. The crowd responded with a roar.

Covid, of course, had made events like this one—even outdoors, with the brackish Fore River beyond—impossible. “Touring was the only way for an artist to earn a living, and that was already very expensive and burdened by corporate co-opting,” Carlile writes at the end of her excellent new memoir, Broken Horses. With Covid, “It went away in an instant.”

But now, with every adult in attendance having shown proof of vaccine, the week-long heatwave having mercifully broken into a cool evening breeze, and Carlile and the Hanseroth brothers (affectionately known as the Twins) having sent the rest of their band ahead to the next show, circumstances were right for an invigorating evening of Americana music.

“I left home a long, long time ago,” Carlile belted out the opening lines of the first song, the road anthem, “Dying Day.” Her renowned voice, elastic and robust, bellowed over a jubilant crowd. The Twins hammered on their acoustic guitars and harmonized with Carlile, who brought the song to a close with a few pumps of a kick drum.

The pro-Carlile crowd erupted, especially when Carlile announced that, since their three-piece arrangement was different from their normal touring act, they might try some “older songs.” “Closer to You” came next, with fans offering a knowing cheer as Carlile picked the opening chords. The song spoke again to the road-weary traveler missing her mate, and it resulted in a crowd-pleasing Beatles cover: “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”

Early in the show, the twin on stage left, Phil, played acoustic bass while Carlile and the twin on stage right, Tim, strummed their acoustic guitars. But with the fourth song, “The Things I Regret,” Carlile’s opening minor wail proved her voice the most powerful instrument on the stage. “The road that I have traveled is as long as it is cracked,” she sang, speaking again to the long journey of her musical career. “Let them roll over me” she repeated with increasing vigor in the outro before a sharp stop. 

“That is actual therapy for me,” Carlile said over the applause, to “scream and yell and stomp.” Her gratitude for the opportunity to play, and for the crowd coming back, was palpable. She was grateful, too, for the Twins, who backed her up on one of the group’s signature songs, “The Story.” Yellow and red lights flickered as she held the notes of the last refrain, then spoke about her love for the brothers, her voice cracking even as she joked about how “creepy” it was to watch them mirror each other’s movements. True to form, the Twins leaned in with big smiles as they put down their instruments to harmonize with Carlile on “The Eye.”

Maybe it was the fact that she’d recently published a memoir, but Carlile was full of insights and anecdotes between her songs. Before “The Mother,” a touching number that found her repeating the mantra, “I am the mother of Evangeline,” she spoke at length about her two children. “It’s hard not to prepare for your offspring when you’re gay,” she joked. She and Evangeline had been playing Zelda together through the pandemic, and the youngest, Elijah, had taken to visual art. And now that Elijah was old enough, she’d started complaining that she wasn’t mentioned in “The Mother.” The crowd had a good chuckle at the end of the song, when Carlile crooned, “I am the mother of Elijah too.”

These personal touches made the evening feel intimate, even with thousands in attendance, and even with the trio playing and singing big, each of them taking turns with the kick drum. The Twins returned for the driving anthem, “My Song,” before Carlile started telling stories about Dolly Parton, who had lovingly called Carlile a “loudmouth,” and Joni Mitchell. Since Carlile had taken on the daunting task of performing Joni Mitchell’s album, “Blue,” in its entirety in 2019, and is set to do so again later this year at Carnegie Hall, she knew she was destined to write songs that imitate Mitchell’s traipsing, sonorous style. To get it out of her system, she wrote “You and Me on the Rock,” which did sound Mitchellesque. When she’d played it for “Joni,” Carlile said, Mitchell said, “Sounds like a hit.”

Carlile is gutsy, bold, tenacious as she moves both through the music industry and across the stage. Her voice is a powerful vehicle for emotion and revelation. But Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” is a challenge for anyone, and the one song of the evening where Carlile betrayed some uncertainty was her cover of “Carey.” The crowd was appreciative all the same, especially as the Twins leaned into Carlile’s microphone, Carlile still strumming her acoustic guitar, for the rise-and-fall melody of their original, “Cannonball.”

With a fresh album, “In These Silent Days,” dropping on October 1, Brandi Carlile had to play the new single. Seated at the piano, she delivered, nailing all the big notes in the sweeping, heartfelt “Right on Time.” More gratitude flowed from the stage for “being able to share this crazy love and energy with y’all.” She called the Portland crowd “the best, most enthusiastic singing crowd” she’s had since concerts started up again. “By a landslide.”

No folk show is complete without a sing-along, so the group divided the crowd into three parts to harmonize on another signature number, “Turpentine.” Tim took the low part, Phil the high, and Carlile the middle, all of them breezing through the song over the voice of the crowd. “I’ve been singing that song for a long time,” Carlile said afterward, “and that was the most beautiful I’ve ever heard that song.” After shaking her head, she added, “Man that was gorgeous. Hard not to get emotional.”

“Raise Hell” took flight as a country stomp, the red tower lights flashing behind the group. “Acoustic rock ‘n’ roll!” Carlile shouted at the end of the song, before welcoming on a guest, Lucy Silvas, who mounted the piano. Silvas and Carlile performed a duet of Silvas’s song, “We’re Living,” a goosebump-inducing observation of the human condition.

Carlile doled out her own musical wisdom with “The Joke,” assuring the audience, “I know how it ends / The joke’s on them.” She once again reached for all the big notes, and she found them with deceptive ease. And all the lights came on for “Pride and Joy,” a boot-stomping guitar jam with the Twins having a ball.

The group had only left the stage for a brief moment before heading back for a much-deserved encore. “It’s been a hard time for relationships,” Carlile said, “and here we are still trying to love each other at the end of the day.” She sat at her piano and, looking out over the crowd, said, “I will never take this for granted. My whole life as long as I live.” The crowd knew she meant it, and appreciation flowed through the audience, lifting everybody up for “Party of One,” a song that pushes through anger and isolation to find home in a loved one.

By this point in the evening, it was clear that gathering in celebration, was a place in itself – a desired home. And although the show was ending, the crowd could take that feeling with them. The trio stepped to their microphones and sang the sweet, melodious blessing, “This Time Tomorrow.” “I may not be around this time tomorrow,” they sang with their thick, resonant harmony, “But I’ll always be with you.” A tender promise from a seasoned performer grateful for her health, her fans, and this opportunity to get back on the road.

Photos by Peter Kwong

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