Standing next to the guy who invented Jacuzzi ozonaters (“he’s a millionaire!” his girlfriend’s sister tells me), I’m not dancing to The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” because a twitch in any direction puts me between a twenty-something-almost-professional-inland-empire-NewAmericanWoman (and her mother!) and their ever-enamored poet laureate of heart-break-and-repair-and-never-getting-rid-of-my-unicorn-bedspread, which, if you didn’t already gather, is a curious place for anyone over 5’8” tall to be.
Lights down, intermission music (Waylon & Willie) off, faux-hawk’d female drummer warms up the Knitting Factory’s PA with a blitzkrieg’s worth of estrogen-burnin-bass-and-floor-tom artillery (she’s not Meg White!) and all one-hundred-twenty-four pounds of Indiana Jones-clad (boots & vest & red bandana & Stetson hat, thankyou) Brandi Carlile with the whole clubhouse behind her charges the stage- the crowd (for the next two hours) goes wild. No, really. Even the bartenders knew every word. Not that I can blame em; the Maple Valley native puts just enough gravel & twang in her voice to cut through the mix without entering the June Carter karaoke contest, and her songs are tough enough to fight but sweet enough to rhyme “locket” with “rocket” (“Keep Your Heart Young” [not “Forever Young”- more on that later] is the cutest damn thing I’ve heard since Taylor Swifts’ “You Belong With Me”). Recipe for not-controversial-enough-to-be-feminist anthems? Oh yeah. But the girl can break my jaded-songwriter-heart too: she’s well-versed in the classic country trick of a cliché set-up (“memories a river runnin through my head”) with a tear-jerking twist into new territory (“have an ocean by the time I’m dead”). She knows her boundary, but the girl’s not afraid to walk the fence either.
Basically the homecoming show at a long tour’s close, Brandi & The Band, tight as only the road can make a band, and loose as only a hometown crowd can, blew through rockers, solo acoustic numbers, Johnny Cash (epic guitar shreddage on Folsom Prison? Check), Patsy Cline, Beatles, and Ramones covers, new stuff from the new album, and some real, real cute stage banter Thursday night. They worked their asses off for an all-but-guaranteed encore, bringing the night to a close with a curious dose of nostalgia: the aforementioned “I Wanna Be Sedated” situation preceding a musing on unicorn-bedspreads, a Never-Ending Story tattoo confession, and the Brandi-on-synth, Cello-accompanied cover of Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” No shortage of nostalgia tonight, whether you slow-danced starry-eyed at prom, or skipped homecoming to dye your hair pink… or both.
I don’t know why this thirty-eight-year-old man is wearing a Brandi Carlile hoodzip, or has a sweater tied around his waist, or why he’s here with his girlfriend’s sister’s daughter (a Blitzen Trapper superfan), or why he hasn’t bought me any drinks if he is indeed the millionaire inventor of the Ozonator. Cue Garden State-inspired curiosity.
“Rail-thin” is an understatement. Justin Townes Earle is “a-decade-of-coke-and-touring-and-learning-lessons-the-hard-way-twice thin.” His voice is lean, laconic, and raw, like Clint Eastwood after three days in the desert, and his guitar strings ring rail-thin and raspy, with a snare drum’s snap on every beat and a string-of-reservation-firecracker (Black Cats?) melody fingerpicked overtop of it. Most of the set comes from Harlem River Blues, an already sparse album, stripped down to pine tar and splinters from the tour. His band, a pair of tough-as-nails women on fiddle and upright, stay right. (Alex VanTuyl/ME REVIEW)
What Can I Say
Before it Breaks
Pride & Joy
Photos by Logan Westom; Brandi Carlile, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit