It’s tough to be the opening act. Everyone’s there to hear the band they bought tickets for, the headliner, and all the time you’re on stage is just making the audience wait longer to see them. I saw Brandi Carlile as the opener for Sheryl Crow in 2010 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall, a palatial and daunting 6,000-seat room, and armed only with her band of twin brothers and her astonishing voice, she blew me and the rest of the crowd away.
At the time, Carlile was largely unknown. But she’s an opener no more. Following the release of five albums, including 2007’s now venerated The Story,¹ Carlile greeted 2018 with her latest work, By The Way, I Forgive You, and its initial earth-shaking single ‘The Joke’. It’s a dramatic, emotionally wrought and empowering message song, without question; It’s produced with strikingly beautiful sound, including the prominent lush strings arrangement, absolutely; But most vividly, it’s the exemplification of her stunning vocal capacities, in which she conjures peak k.d. lang, and most dramatically in the three choruses, the great Roy Orbison – particularly beginning at the 3:33 mark with her final climactic ascension which begs comparison to the mesmerizing close of Orbison’s all-time melancholy classic ‘Crying’, only one of the most memorable moments in recorded pop history. It’s truly chills-inducing stuff. And it makes me glad all over again that I showed up early for an unfamiliar opener 8 years ago.
In the spring of 2018 Carlile played 3 sold-out shows at NYC’s Beacon Theater. As the headliner.
¹and if you’re seeking another example of visceral vocal emotion, visit this title track – and especially the 2:52 mark