Brandi Carlile triumphs in her return to Austin City Limits

Since Brandi Carlile first visited Austin City Limits on the original stage back in 2010, the Seattle singer and songwriter has moved from rapidly rising up-and-comer to a highly respected star in her own right. Following up successful albums Bear Creek and Grammy-nominated The Firecatcher’s Daughter with this year’s critically acclaimed By the Way, I Forgive You, an album of which she is extremely and justifiably proud, Carlile brought her esteemed catalog to ACL once again for an impressive, fiery show, which we streamed live around the world.

A string quartet joined drummer Chris Powell and keyboardist Jacob Hoffman for some moodsetting ambience, before twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth took up the bass and guitar respectively. The woman of the hour arrived as Tim began fingerpicking “Every Time I Hear That Song,” her country twang perfect for a tale of heartbreak and redemption. Then the band kicked the tempo into the raging “Raise Hell,” a turbocharged take on galloping Johnny Cash chickaboom. After shouting out the Hanseroth brothers – her musical partners for seventeen years – Carlile led the gorgeous three-part harmonies of “The Eye,” with only Tim’s guitar for accompaniment. The twins then left the stage to Carlile alone – at least at first, as her four-year-old daughter Evangeline joined her onstage for a quick kiss. It was an appropriate visit, given that the next song was “The Mother,” in which Carlile grapples with parenthood with honesty and love.

The band arrived back onstage for “The Joke,” a room-filling anthem in support of anyone who’s ever felt marginalized or attacked for their choices. Her country rhythms returned even as the anthemic feel remained for “Harder to Forgive” (“than to forget”), and the lighters stayed out for the powerful “Sugartooth,” a song for those struggling with addiction. Carlile then strapped on an electric guitar and chopped out the chords to “Mainstream Kid,” a hard country rocker that earned the wildest applause so far. After that much reaching for the sky, the band brought the mood to a more reflective place with “Most of All,” Carlile’s salute to her parents. She followed that crowd-pleaser with a real surprise: a spectacular cover of Elton John’s deep cut “Madman Across the Water,” a bold and unusual choice that allowed the musicians to stretch their wings.  

“They’ve heard me sing this song a million times,” Carlile stated after introducing her hardworking band. “I wanna hear Austin, Texas sing it!” Then it was into “The Story,” her 2007 breakthrough song, given the widescreen treatment it deserves. “Whatever You Do” followed, before the main set ended with Carlile at the piano belting out the show-stopping ballad “Party of One,” the strings playing her offstage. They played her back on again, too, as a loud crash during the first performance of “Every Time I Hear That Song” meant a redo. An earlier misplaced capo caused a redo of “The Eye” as well, the harmonies even sharper than before. Carlile and the band brought the show to a close and the house down with “Hold Out Your Hand,” an anthem that connected Woody Guthrie to twenty-first century rock, dedicated to a generation of kids fighting to make the world a better place. The audience went nuts, ending the show on the highest of high notes. It was an incredible show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our upcoming Season 44 on your local PBS station.