“I’ll Have A Brandi Carlile With A Side Of Mayo, Please.”
It was like the thrill of having seen seven stellar concerts all in one night. Have you ever seen an opening band that fit so well with the headliner it reminded you of the time of how perfectly put together you felt when you decided to match your underwear with your exterior clothing? Okay, so picture that with a flawless story arc in concert form. May I create a loose analogy…again: if small streams of rippling water were a concert --- you know, the one’s you find in those magical spots among the trees when hiking in the mountains---those streams would be Brandi Carlile’s performance. I felt the walls change and my environment collapse and rebuild itself song to song. The set list was smart, and the arc of honest emotion and closure at the end of the concert was comfortable, energizing, and fun. The Mayo Center, in other words, delivered.
I mustn’t continue without giving you a little back-story about the concert hall. After having gone through a number of transitions, the venue’s official name became “The Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts.” The theater was built by Walter Reade in 1937, originally serving as a premier movie house for 43 years until it was sold. The theater, unfortunately, went into disrepair in the late eighties to early nineties. After a huge community volunteer effort, the theater was revamped and reopened in 1994. Four years ago marked the launch of a major fundraising campaign for an enormous upgrade, eventually giving what this Morristown gem needed to pack some healthy punch and give its performers and patrons what they needed. This included dressing rooms, air conditioning, classroom space, a fly-rail system, and an orchestra pit. I like to think of the Mayo Center as the “new kid on the block” that everyone likes because of the interesting stories it can tell.
Good Old War, a three piece band hailing from sunny Philadelphia, opened the concert. Lead guitarist Dan Schwartz hopped between acoustic and electric, while drummer Tim Arnold hopped from kit to accordion, and lead singer Keith Goodwin rocked with guitar and synth that carried beautiful bass undertones. Mind you, all of these men could sing and carry a perfect harmony. My ear related them to a mix of the Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie, The National (if they all were seafaring romantics) and percussion choices that intermingled rock, a small bit of Celtic vibe, and various island beats that made your body move involuntarily. Then you realize what exactly has taken you over and you groove with it; all is right in the world when there is a Good Old War. It was a lovely folk, storytelling, reggae-type of experience.
Carlile’s band walked on stage, I think the entire audience had a simultaneous heart attack. I could only imagine if this were standing-room only how many people would be flinging themselves upon the stage. At that moment when the lights came up and Brandi’s voice rang though the hall, the song made me want to fly. It was like I felt the wind pick up and lift the whole audience.
“The Story,” her title track off her second album, went over quite well, overwhelmingly so. First of all she wails on it; her voice is incredibly powerful and she rocked it. When she turned around with the electric guitar strapped to her shoulder and started banging on it during the music break, the audience screamed and applauded. I thought to myself, “This is a singer/songwriter who worked her way through obstacles and opportunity to get here now, but is still building her story as we speak.” It was truly a cathartic guitar solo. She played “I Will.” She told me in our interview that she is most transcended by this song when she performs it. The whole band came up closer to the edge of the stage to sit down and play. The persistence, the repetition as if to convince herself with the lyric “I will” gave me chills. I could only hope to understand the true meaning of Brandi’s honest lyrics. However, the beauty of a song is the allowance of interpretation. Then the lights slowly faded to black.
She played a cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to a mesmerized audience. It was beautiful to see the stillness. The lyrics billowed throughout the room; the sound bare and solid with only her acoustic guitar and voice. I thought ‘why oh why can’t I” go up on the stage now and ask all these extra questions I have for her.
I was really taken by the instrumentation. Josh Neumann, Brandi’s versatile cellist and piano player, added gorgeous dynamic to each song. I just started playing with a cellist myself a few months ago and the sound truly takes your songs for a ride. Phil and Tim Hanseroth, otherwise referred to as “The Twins,” blended in perfect harmony. If you are a fan of three-part harmony, Phil, Tim, and Brandi have the goods. Speaking of three-part harmony, I had a splendid time when the three of them taught the audience the harmonies to the song “Turpentine.” I must say, Brandi encouraged the audience frequently to participate during her performance.
The encore was energetic with The Twins’ cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” followed by a Johnny Cash cover that really revved up the crowd. By this time everyone was standing and remained standing for one more tune off the band’s most recent album “Give Up The Ghost.” Like I said earlier, it was like seeing seven great concerts in one. I wasn’t lying. I think I exerted so much energy applauding that I may just have to hibernate for the next 3 years.
Cheers, Brandi. It was a pleasure.