Brandi Carlile performs Joni Mitchell's "Blue" at Carnegie Hall, New York November 6, 2021
The line found me. I was waiting by the Stage Door on 56th Street in the hope that Carlile and her entourage would arrive closer to show time. The plan was to ask Brandi to sign her NY Times Best Seller listing at #1 that I'd kept since April, or the first page of the sheet music for "Blue", (or greedy me...both!). A friendly fan informed me that Tim Hanseroth had posted on social media that the group was already in house by 3pm but hope lives eternal. Carnegie Hall security conducted the entry line around the corner and down the torn up 56th Street sidewalk to absorb us. When we moved along to the entry, we were asked for proof of vaccination (me showing the Carnegie Hall preferred Clear APP) and given a red ribbon wrist band with the show date and Carnegie Hall printed on it, our tickets were scanned just inside, and we were told that masks must be worn inside and were conducted to our seats. My new friend Emily from New Jersey and I were sitting in the same section, a few rows apart. The house filled quickly, and the atmosphere was jovial and expectant. The smiling eyes/square meter quotient was high.
Pre-show music (all Joni) playing at relatively low volume was started, the choices in order were: Cactus Tree, Both Sides Now (1968), Help Me, Amelia, Coyote, Circle Game, Free Man in Paris, Down to You, Twisted, Peoples Parties. I was joined by a friend known to many fan group members as posting significant and rare material relatively soon before the lights dimmed. The local traffic was terrible due to the impending New York City Marathon preparations. After the lights fell around 8:15pm, a smallish screen in the center of the stage back wall showed a short black and white film scored with the piano track from "The Last Time I Saw Richard", shot at the Los Angeles staging of the show, highlighting the joyous events backstage as Brandi and Joni shared their excitement and an effusive Elton John congratulated Brandi on a "magical evening." The film ended with Carlile and her whole team toasting their success and confidently setting the goal to bring the show to Carnegie Hall in New York!
So here we are, and so glad to be.
The show followed much of the same script and structure as the show at the Disney Hall. I don't know if the proscenium stage had any effect on placement or staging, that can only be answered by someone who attended both events. Sam Stone's excellent review of that show can't be improved upon for description of the performance. The audience clearly had affection for the work and personal history of Joni Mitchell and did not adapt a classical affectation to remain silent during each song. They offered organic, instantaneous, heartfelt and appropriately passionate response to musical and vocal highlights. "California" was granted successfully fuller Country R&B treatment, "This Flight Tonight" rocked heavily. Arrangements notably included addition of the string quartet (including BCB member Josh Neumann) to "The Last Time I Saw Richard", although they also made for sonic emotional Armageddon on "Blue" and "A Case of You." Carlile's solo self-accompaniment performances for "Little Green" and "River" came from a deep and well understood place. For Joni fans, the "Richard" arrangement inched slightly closer to what we have come to love in "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" and the cinematic color is a miraculously, devastatingly positive enhancement to an already epic piece. Returning stage personnel included musical director/pianist Jon Cowherd, percussionist Jeff Haynes, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius to add background harmonies and vocals to Carey, California, This Flight Tonight, encores Woodstock, You and Me on the Rock, and Shine. Brandi Carlile Band had once embarked on a tour to perform sonically notable acoustic halls without any amplification. Not passing up the opportunity to test Carnegie Hall similarly, Brandi came to the stage apron with Tim and Phil Hanseroth to perform their delicate "Cannonball" to a rapt audience who conjoined to postpone breathing, as part of their encore. One could hear a pin drop, and the harmonic presence while Brandi and the twins listened for the walls' answer back was heavenly; intimate and unforgettable. Tonight’s band beyond Brandi Carlile herself included Jon Cowherd, Giovanna Clayton, Thomas Lea, Kyleen King. Bennett Lewis, Matt Chamberlin, Josh Neumann, Jeff Haynes, David Ryan Harris, Jess & Holly of Lucius, Tim Hanseroth, Phil Hanseroth. Brandi remarked to the audience that they should note that it took 13 people on stage to do the job of ONE Joni Mitchell.
After the show, I stumbled upon an opportunity to have a very short conversation with Catherine Shepherd Carlile, upon who I admit an instant crush; I fully understand Brandi's description of love at first sight. I have perhaps some bad news in that she seemed adamant that Brandi Carlile would not be performing "Blue" again in the future. I won't speculate on why, other than to acknowledge that Carlile has her own blessedly successful original career to manage, and the stresses incumbent on presenting this work. I pressed Catherine for a potential London show. "No." Also after the show, I decided to use the restroom, entering and occupying an upright situation next to Jon Batiste, who I congratulated for his recent Academy Award and encouraged that his next travel companion be Brandi Carlile's audiobook for "Broken Horses." Jon is now the second musician I have engaged while pee-ing at a Joni Mitchell event, the first being Bryan Adams at the TNT Tribute. I must stop meeting people this way. Brandi had called out the attendance tonight of T-Bone Burnett as she told the story of his rebuffed effort to expose her to the album. Jodi Foster was also rumored to be in the house.
Full disclosure: I don't own any Brandi Carlile records. I think that Brandi Carlile has one of the most effective media teams ever assembled, and it can seem Brandi Carlile is the product that team loves and lives to offer. Should you choose to buy, that's very helpful but not necessarily the whole point. If Brandi Carlile is a product, they are of their own design; wrought by their own talents and tenacity, worthy of your treasure and emotional investment. This week, I ended my second listen through her (Brandi Carlile, the woman's) self-spoken audiobook, "Broken Horses." I'd written on any Facebook group that would have me that it is superb. In fact, it's even better the second time. The included musical selections educate the breadth, depth, and connectivity of her influences and those of collaborators while illuminating her own compositions as they support the narrative. What does any of this have to do with "Blue?" First, at risk of being redundant, I encourage you to get the "Broken Horses" audiobook and take your time to absorb its beautiful prose and generosity of spirit. This can inform why the artist phenomenon that is Joni Mitchell has supported Carlile as she reproduces one of Mitchell's most beloved bodies of work. I won't spoil your journey but there are some notable similarities in the challenges both faced as they developed their talents and careers. Childhood health crisis, disenfranchisement and a keen awareness-of-self figure prominently for both Carlile and Mitchell, to the point that both survived more than one opportunity to have assumed the mortal past tense. What has resulted for both is relentless honesty and glorious triumph they choose to share as one pays homage to the other. That's why Brandi Carlile is singing "Blue" tonight to another sold out house in celebration of the work's semicentennial, this time in the storied venue where Joni Mitchell sang her bravest song to her parents more than 52 years ago. This goes beyond an association, a tribute or an alliance. It is a concert of souls.
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Added to Library on November 7, 2021. (653)
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