Brandi Carlile is no stranger to the symphony, which is likely why her concert with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on Nov. 24 was such a sublime experience.
The show was the first of three for Carlile that weekend and the series of shows marked the third set of concerts Carlile has performed concerts with the symphony: She did so in 2008 and 2010, with the latter series of shows spawning the excellent “Live With the Benaroya Hall and Seattle Symphony” album. Her familiarity with the room and comfort with sharing the stage with a symphony contributed heavily to the evening’s success. This year, as in her past symphonic shows, Carlile’s concert was a two-hour tour through her catalog, but this time there was an emphasis on material from her latest album, “Bear Creek.” The record covers ground in rock, folk, alt-country and blues and it is likely to end up on more than a few best-of lists at the end of the year, and hearing the symphony play along with “Bear Creek” songs was a treat.
Carlile and her band opened for themselves, performing a brief six-song set sans symphony. Carlile is a fairly formidable musical force by herself, but her band – drummer Konrad Meissner, cellist Josh Neumann, fiddler and mandolin player Jeb Bows, bassist Phil Hanseroth and his twin brother, guitarist, Tim – really helped make the short set an impressive display of musical versatility. Benaroya Hall is one of the city’s finest-sounding rooms and not many pop musicians perform there and Carlile made sure to take advantage of the venue’s acoustics. For “What Can I Say,” the penultimate song in the opening set, Carlile and her band performed completely unplugged, and the song beautifully soared through the room.
When the symphony, led by conductor Jason Weinberger, took the stage Carlile told the sold-out crowd that Grammy Award-winner Paul Buckmaster, who is best known for his work with Elton John’s orchestral work as well as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” created the evening’s arrangements. She admitted to being a bit nervous because she hadn’t heard a few of them prior to performing them that night, but they all sounded spectacular. Flutes lightly punctuated “Cannonball,” and horns punched up the plenty feisty “Raise Hell.”
There were only a few times where the symphony fully took over a song. Instead, Buckmaster’s work called for the symphony to accentuate what Carlile and her band were doing, letting Carlile and Co. control the musical ebb and flow. However, that’s not to say the symphonic contributions weren’t noticeable. The massive string section brought new life to “Looking Out,” which was one of the standout performances of the show, and main set closer “The Story” was given added depth and emotion thanks to the symphony.
The show closed with a terrific encore that packed a few choice covers, the first of which was “The Sound of Silence” performed by only the Hanseroth brothers. Their harmonies filled the room beautifully and provided another great showcasing of the hall’s tremendous acoustics. Carlile then took the stage and knocked Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” out of the park. After “Pride and Joy,” from the Rick Rubin-produced “Give Up the Ghost,” a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” provided the perfect ending to a blissful night at the symphony.
Setlist (without symphony)
Save Part of Yourself
What Can I Say
You Belong to Me
Hard Way Home
Keep Your Heart Young
Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)
That Wasn’t Me
The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkle cover)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince cover)
Pride and Joy
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)