Okay, Brandi Carlile, I promise to never again pigeonhole the wonderful thing you do as “singer-songwriter” or “roots / Americana.” Just keep slaying like you did from the BB&T Pavilion stage on the closing night of XPN Fest.
The Seattle-rooted musician and longtime XPN favorite took the stage last night not only with Tim and Phil Hanseroth – aka “The Twins,” her longtime collaborators on guitar, bass and vocals – but with a rousing full band that elevated her songs to arena rock proportions befitting the huge amphitheater they were performing in. On drums, Brian Griffin propelled the music forth; on cello and keys, Josh Neumann added nuanced, atmospheric accents; on guitar, Gibb Droll rumbled and roared. Carlile is gripping as a solo performer, no doubt — she made all of NonCOMM cry back in 2015, after all — but seeing her with this lineup is next-level.
“Raise Hell” from Bear Creek shook the rafters from the get-go, “Wherever Is Your Heart” from last year’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter took the energy higher. She reeled things in for a moment so she and the Hanesroths could show off their intimate trio configuration. “We got together in Seattle in the 90s, in a time when grunge was at its peak,” she said. “And it was very uncool to say that you were into three part harmonies.” As she explained, it took them a decade and a half to channel their love of CSNY, The Beach Boys and Alabama into a song, but they finally did last year. “This song is about how there is no lead singer, there’s only somebody who insists that she is,” Carlile said, before launching into a resplendent take on “The Eye.”
“The Things I Regret” brought the tone right back up to full band rock out levels…and then there was her cover of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Playing this at XPNFest hit the perfect venn diagram crossover of Boss fans and Brandi fans, and the room was on their feet screaming along. Things got poignant on “The Mother,” a new song written for her daughter Evangeline and wife Catherine that’s simultaneously about the beauty and terror of parenthood. “I love her [Evangeline] a lot, but it is my duty as a songwriter to present you with both sides of the story,” Carlile told the crowd.
A handful of other covers filled out the night – Led Zep’s “Going to California” was an achingly beautiful singalong; Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was searing and smoking, with Carlile slamming around the stage in total rock goddess mode; and her tourmates Old Crow Medicine Show came out to shut it down with a rambling take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” All told, all hail: it was a fantastic closing of XPNFest 2016.
Old Crow, for their part, were a spectacular spectacle. Opening with the rambunctious “Cocaine Habit” from 2006’s Big Iron World, the geographically all-encompassing six-piece sang, danced and solo’d their way into everybody’s hearts. Typically the next-to-last-band-on-Sunday-of-XPNFest slot is a difficult one, but Old Crow had no problem getting the crowd who’d spent the day marinating in Dogfish Head and brutal heat to dance along, from the Doc Watson nod “Doc’s Day” to Carlile joining them on John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” and the traditional “CC Rider.” And then of course, there was “the hit,” the eternal “Wagon Wheel” which was another off-the-hook singalong.
Early arrivers to the BB&T pavilion (who weren’t busy dancing their asses off to Femi Kuti and the Positive Force) were treated to an opening set from case/lang/veirs. Their set highlighted tunes from the debut collaborative LP of these three songwriting power players – Neko Case, k.d. land, Laura Veirs – “Atomic Number” and “Best Kept Secret” to “Georgia Stars.” There were also solo songs in the mix, like Case’s “Man” and “Hold On, Hold On,” lang’s “Constant Craving” and Veirs’ “July Flame.” And the trio covered Neil Young’s “Helpless” and Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”
Check out a photo gallery from the finale below, and here’s to another amazing XPNFest in the books!
Brandi Carlile setlist
Hard Way Home
Wherever Is Your Heart
The Things I Regret
Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Pride and Joy
Going to California (Led Zeppelin cover)
The Chain (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash cover with Old Crow Medicine Show)
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