‘Something special is happening in Salt Lake — always has been’: Brandi Carlile thanks Utah for being with her from the start
Brandi Carlile, accompanied by the Indigo Girls and other outstanding artists, gave an unforgettable performance that made up for lost time during the pandemic
The last time Brandi Carlile’s music graced Salt Lake City, none of us knew the turn history would shortly take.
On Feb. 8, 2020, Carlile and her band took the stage at Vivint Arena, giving a performance that for many of us would be the last live show we’d see for a while — or at least without COVID-19 looming in the back of our minds.
On Thursday night, over two years later, Carlile gazed into that same arena with a bittersweet countenance. “I thought my career was gonna go away forever,” she said, referring to how the live concert experience became a thing of the past during much of the pandemic. “You never know how long something like this is going to last. ... So I’m going to sing every song like it’s my last time.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Backed by her longtime friends and bandmates, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Carlile opened a rousing two-hour-plus set with “Broken Horses,” a gritty, Western-themed “stick it to the man” type song that also serves as the title of her recent memoir. For Carlile, “Broken Horses” represents her journey of coming to terms with herself amid the hurdles life has thrown her way.
“Only broken horses know to run,” she sang, her powerful voice ringing throughout the arena.
Her band, equipped with a wide range of percussion instruments, a pianist and a breathtaking string quartet, then moved on to perform a few hits from her newest album. “In These Silent Days,” released last year, covers themes of motherhood, love, pain and forgiveness.
In between songs, Carlile was effusive with her praise of Utah. She and her wife, Catherine, spent the days leading up to the Salt Lake show exploring Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks for their 10th anniversary. Throughout Thursday’s show, Carlile repeatedly mentioned the Salt Lake venue The State Room, which has supported her from the start of her career.
The singer-songwriter recalled how the venue — which seats 300 — came through for her in 2010, when she was on tour with Sheryl Crow and some of the shows got canceled at the last minute due to illness. She and her band needed to get to the East Coast — and needed the gas money to get there. That trip ended up being largely funded by a spontaneous three-night stand at The State Room, where she performed an album each night in its entirety.
“It feels good to have found myself out here in Utah. There’s something special happening here in Salt Lake City, always has been,” Carlile told the packed arena Thursday night before dedicating her hit song “The Story” to the city and the fans who have been there from the beginning.
Carlile didn’t just stick to her own hits. She worked in a haunting cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” followed by an angsty rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep.” She then performed her Grammy Award-winning song “The Joke,” a powerful number about pushing on and being yourself, despite the criticism that may come from others. Then, she moved to the piano, where she performed a stirring rendition of “Party of One.”
It would have been a spectacular end to the show, but Carlile was far from done. When it came time for her encore, she did something that’s fairly unusual for big-name artists: Knowing all too well from her early days what it’s like playing to an empty arena, Carlile brought out her opener, hard rock-blues artist Celisse, and gave her the chance to perform for a full house.
Carlile also welcomed famed folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls — who played their own set of hits, including “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine,” prior to Carlile’s performance — back onto the stage. For Carlile, having the Indigo Girls with her on tour is somewhat of a full-circle moment.
“I am the biggest Indigo Girls fan on the face of the planet,” Carlile said, her arms wrapped around singers Amy Ray and Emily Sailers. Carlile shared how she owed everything to the artists, recalling how she listened to them as a teenager, learned how to play guitar while listening to their songs, traveled far distances, and waited hours in line to meet them and see them perform. Carlile even spent years opening for them.
The crowd roared as Carlile and the Indigo Girls sang the duo’s hits “Least Complicated” and “Go.” It very well could have been an Indigo Girls headline show the way the audience engaged with the duo, basking in the rich harmonies.
No Brandi Carlile show would be complete without a tribute to folk legend Joni Mitchell, who has become a mentor of sorts to Carlile in recent years. Ahead of performing the Mitchell classic “Woodstock,” Carlile recalled Mitchell’s recent comeback at the Newport Folk Festival where, partway through Carlile’s set, Mitchell surprised fans by coming out and performing hit after hit — her first public performance since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015 that temporarily took away her ability to sing and play guitar.
Carlile was visibly having a lot of fun onstage — and it seemed like she really didn’t want the show to come to an end. But after performing the already fast-paced “Hold Out Your Hand” at an even faster pace, Carlile finally brought the night to an end performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a style reminiscent of her early days: just her and a guitar.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
Each note rang out crisp and clear, and, impressively, not a single noise could be heard in the packed arena. In that moment, Carlile made a venue of close to 20,000 people feel as intimate as a small venue like The State Room.
But for Carlile, the venue makes no difference. And after the past two years, you can be especially certain that Carlile is going to be singing each song like it’s her last for a long, long time.