“This is by far the biggest show we’ve ever played in Boston,” Brandi Carlile said as she greeted the roaring crowd of TD Garden. “It’s utterly surreal.”
The experience was surreal for the audience, too. Carlile, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter from Washington state, made it easy to forget that anything existed outside of the arena. She is one of the most phenomenal artists on tour this year, guaranteed to deliver captivating performances, entertaining stories, talented guests, and vocals that sound even better live than on record.
Brittany Howard, lead vocalist and guitarist of Alabama Shakes, opened the concert with songs from her debut solo album “Jaime.” She alternated between sweet, mellow tunes that had the audience swaying with their loved ones and bold, high-energy performances amplified by shredding guitar, dancing, and passionate lyrics about unity and strength. Howard was the perfect opening act — an invigorating presence whose mind-blowing voice made attending the concert worthwhile long before Carlile took the stage.
After a brief intermission, identical twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth — whom Carlile has been performing with for almost two decades — restored the energy with an electric guitar medley of crowd-pleasers like “The Final Countdown.” When they transitioned into the “Broken Horses” intro, Carlile triumphantly walked onstage in her sparkly suit and jumped into the song that set a bright tone for the rest of the concert. Leading the setlist with 2021’s “Broken Horses” was a brilliant decision; the powerful song showcased Carlile’s astounding vocal range and trademark rock with a touch of country twang.
What followed was a dynamic, multi-genre blend of exhilaration and tenderness. Carlile navigated between pared back, folky tunes like “The Mother” and complex rock songs that required the entirety of her band. With or without backup, her stage presence was undeniable; she was just as enchanting alone with a piano as she was interacting with her fellow musicians. In her standout performance of “Right on Time,” the first track on her 2021 album “In These Silent Days,” Carlile put her vocal control on full display, belting with an even vibrato that evoked cheers from the crowd at the end of every long note. This control allowed her to create ethereal harmonies with her band and guest performers, particularly with the Hanseroth twins. It comes as no surprise that after almost 20 years of performing together, the three voices can merge effortlessly to become one cohesive sound.
Carlile performed others’ music just as well as her own. She paid homage to David Bowie and Radiohead with performances of “Space Oddity” and “Creep” that would have made the creators proud. She captured the intensity of the original songs, but her down-to-earth personality and smooth vocals brought a unique warmth to her renditions.
Although she shone onstage, Carlile was not always the center of attention. She frequently paused to praise her backup singers and musicians — and for good reason. Her band covered the typical drum kit, guitar, bass, and keyboard, with the unique addition of violin, viola, cello, and less conventional percussion instruments such as a shekere. The instrumental variety added a beautiful depth to songs, and Carlile made sure to spotlight their artistry. In “Sinners, Saints and Fools,” for instance, the string quartet is crucial in the song’s climax, an organized chaos driven by the quick and forceful playing of their instruments.
Carlile also featured guest performers throughout the show, including Celisse, Allison Russell, and Brittany Howard. The duet with Howard, a cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” was one of the most unforgettable moments of the night, a collaboration between two powerhouses.
Carlile is more than just a singer: She is a storyteller, through lyrics and the spoken word. Between songs, Carlile became more of a friend than a celebrity. She let the audience in on a few stories, including a hilarious recount of the late legend John Prine telling her, “Don’t worry about dropping the baby; it won’t be the last time.” Her words also grappled with more serious subject matter, including marriage equality, gun violence, and reproductive rights. With an anecdote about getting married to her wife in Massachusetts came a reminder about the importance of accepting people as they are. Carlile made every audience member feel welcome, advocating for love, compassion, and progress toward a better future.
The concert ended with a solo performance of “Over the Rainbow.” Carlile kept it simple: She stood with an acoustic guitar, strumming and singing softly as the screen behind her boasted the rainbow colors of pride. Despite its simplicity, the act was rich with meaning; it called to mind the themes of love and hope that arose over the course of the concert and reminded the audience of Carlile’s excellence. With nothing more than a guitar in hand, Carlile left thousands in awe of her character and her voice.
Leaving the glow of TD Garden on Oct. 21, it became clear that Carlile’s concert was the perfect escape. Every performance radiated energy and inclusivity. A testament to her talent was the lack of phone screens held up in the audience. Viewers snapped the occasional photo or video, but Carlile’s presence was such a gift that to watch through a screen would have been a waste.
—Staff writer Nina M. Foster can be reached at email@example.com.