Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Brandi Carlile - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London. Tuesday 1st November 2016

Louisville Kentucky; Columbia Maryland and London UK: three reasons why Brandi Carlile is the undisputed premier artist of 2016 in these quarters. Just over twelve months ago the Grammy nominated album THE FIREWATCHER’S DAUGHTER featured highly in the annual favourite release list and if this was rolled out as a two year celebration it would be without equals. It has more mileage than a lunar expedition and has really had its credentials exposed within the live arena. The last of these three locations to see Brandi in concert was her triumphant return to Britain, although there is unfinished business around the provinces. On stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and subsequently on social media, she promised to make these transatlantic shows a more frequent occurrence, with the obvious persuasive stance from many of her UK fans to venture outside of the capital. However these suggestions are probably left for another day, amidst the joy of seeing Brandi and the twins actually play a supreme show on British soil.

Previous shows in the capital across Brandi’s ten plus years in the starlight since her 2005 debut album were constantly referred to as she felt humbled by the growth of the venues from The Borderline to this evening’s more populous location. Although it was the pin drop show at the Union Chapel which fired her up tonight and led her to try to re-create two totally unplugged moments. It will have to be left to others in the venue to comment on the effectiveness of this choice of song delivery, but four paces from the front of the stage left little room for complaint. All five band members came to the front of the stage to unleash an unplugged version of ‘What Can I Say’, while a breath taking first encore song saw Brandi, Tim and Phil appear on the right side balcony to deliver ‘Beginning to Feel the Years’. The evening’s pivotal points were far from consigned to these golden moments as Brandi explored the full range of her repertoire from the gospel tinged ‘That Wasn’t Me’ to the raucous ‘Mainstream Kid’, a defining sound switch exemplifying the eclectic appeal of the latest record.

Just taking a break from Brandi fever for a moment and a welcome addition to the bill for these European shows was Angaleena Presley. If Brandi dips her toe into country music, then Angaleena is totally immersed into it. Afforded a decent forty-five minute opening slot, it was a case of the new, old and older in her song arsenal. Maybe the musical accompaniment was stripped to a bare minimum and the audience was not a country music breathing one, but Angaleena did a grand job introducing, explaining and ultimately singing a bunch of songs with strong lyrical substance. From her acclaimed debut album, ‘American Middle Class’, ‘Dry County Blues’ and ‘Knocked Up’ focussed on significant social comment. Several new songs got an early airing as well with the expected follow up album release in the first half of 2017. First impressions were good, usual sassy comment and packed with lyrics that befit any country song. Perhaps a reminder of Angaleena’s real strength in penning a melody was the oldest song of the set in ‘Lemon Drop’ from the Pistol Annies first album. Angaleena was keen to add a country spice to the evening and one abiding memory of her set was that Brandi’s fans need to get more into Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt. These have certainly inspired Brandi in spirit, if not in authentic country sound.

From the summer Stateside shows, Brandi dropped the country covers of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feelin’, while obviously keeping the more mainstream rock choices of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’ and the instantly recognisable ‘The Chain’. The latter played out as the final song with the full band re-united on stage for the finale. Another country style song missing from the summer was the joyous ditty ‘Keep Your Heart Young’, but there were plenty of gems from across her five album back catalogue to thrill the dedicated and the casual.

From the latest record, the powerful trio of ‘Things I Regret’, ‘Wherever is Your Heart’ and ‘The Eye’ sparkled in their glory. Long term Brandi companions the twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth join her for the majestic three-part harmony on the latter. When paying respect to her friends, she stated they are a band with no lead singer, but this does not do justice to her wonderfully cracked vocals that pour out so much feeling, passion and emotion.

While on the emotive subject, Brandi introduced the ode to her daughter Evangeline which has recently been written. ‘Mother’ featured prominently on her summer US shows and it went down as well with her committed fans this side of the pond as those devoted from coast to coast in America. Brandi was in her usual ‘heart on sleeve’ mode and the love shown in the packed venue was totally unconditional. This is repaid with a stirring live performance adept at rocking out with the best on songs like ‘Pride and Joy’ and giving many their required treat with a sublime performance of her most prominent song ‘The Story’.

In fact the ninety plus minutes the band was on stage rocked in a multitude of magnificent ways. Right from the highly pleasing opener ‘Again Today’ through a couple of classics from the BEAR CREEK album in ‘Hard Way Home’ and ‘Raise Hell’ and to the final song recalled from the set list memory ‘Dreams’. Without doubt Brandi was not shy on projecting the fact that she was living her own dream and one that she intends to share with a willing audience for a long time to come.

Eventually the book will close on THE FIREWATCHER’S DAUGHTER and 2016 will finally be anointed the gig year of Brandi Carlile. A new album is promised soon, along with the aforementioned London return. However pressure must be applied that our capital, and the south, should not be the limits of the UK horizon. Wonderful nights like this Shepherd’s Bush Empire concert deserve to be shared across a wider UK platform. Over to you Brandi! 

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