Music

Review: Brandi Carlile excites her fans and herself at once-in-a-lifetime concert in St. Paul

Brandi Carlile had a rather eventful week.

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Last Sunday, she coaxed — and accompanied — her new bestie, a retired Joni Mitchell, to perform her first full set in 22 years, at Newport Folk Festival. It was a historic moment.

To end the week, Carlile on Saturday headlined in a Twin Cities arena for the very first time. That was long overdue in her biggest market. She’d been too busy playing at the Minnesota State Fair and doing multiple nights runs at the State Theatre, Minnesota Zoo and the Fillmore Minneapolis.

From [the 400 Bar] to this,” Carlile proclaimed Saturday to 12,239 fans at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center. “Holy [crap]!”

Calling it her rock ‘n’ roll dream and one of her biggest live audiences ever, she gushed, beamed and dazzled for 125 minutes with her voice, warmth and sincerity. She was genuinely taken by the uproarious reception.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime crowd,” she declared during her encore.

It was not a once-in-a-lifetime performance — her many Twin Cities shows have been outstanding — but Saturday’s was truly unforgettable.

Carlile, 41, was open-hearted, generous, excited — and excitable. She raised her hands in triumph after several songs — and called herself out for doing so. At night’s end, she joyously stomped her feet when she and her nine-piece band took their bows.

She sang her signature songs with conviction and delivered some covers with panache (Radiohead’s “Creep” was very special). During the encore, she brought out her two opening acts to perform and even snuck her two daughters and wife into a choir for the spirited hoedown “Hold Out Your Hand.”

During the half-hour encore, Carlile saluted Mitchell (last Sunday was “the most amazing moment of my career”) with a moody and sometimes muddy treatment of “Woodstock” that started like a reverent spiritual and evolved into a thunderous blues.

That’s the thing about Carlile, her songs are filled with dramatic musical turns because her sound is so eclectic, her voice is so dynamic. “The Story,” her modest adult-pop hit from 2007, and “The Joke,” her Grammy winner from 2017, both started like folk songs on Saturday and eventually built to volcanic vocal explosions. Mariah Carey has nothing on Carlile.

While the Washington state native is usually classified as Americana, she started the night rocking harder than ever, with “Broken Horses” and “Mainstream Kid.” Before the concert was over, she touched on folk, country, pop, blues, ballads, standards and harmony singing.

The setlist was heavy on material from last year’s “In These Silent Days” and 2018’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” which led to the Grammy Awards moment catapulting her from a cult-loved singer to a “we need to have Brandi Carlile on our TV show.”

Her bravura voice led to big moments Saturday but some of the quieter ones stood out, especially the finale of “Stay Gentle,” for which that reassuring voice was accompanied by her string quartet. She segued into “Over the Rainbow,” with just her acoustic guitar and her voice going way up high.

Perhaps the night’s most memorable moment, though, was Carlile’s story about her daughter Evangeline, 8, making a secret potion of soap, soda and whatever other liquids she could find and leave it by Mom’s hotel bedside. Needless to say, Carlile unknowingly took a sip of the soapy potion and she wasn’t sure how it would affect her voice on Saturday night. The mischief didn’t stop her from singing “The Mother,” a sometimes sardonic but loving ode to becoming a Mom.

Opening the concert were the underwhelming Lake Street Dive, whose likable jazzy pop doesn’t play well in an arena, and the overwhelming Celisse, a singer-guitarist who received standing ovations for two of her four numbers including a hellacious interpretation of Bill Withers’ “Use Me.”

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