Pike Place to Rolling Stone: Brandi Carlile's journey to 2012

Award-winning local songstress, Brandi Carlile, rang in the New Year on her home turf, among friends at the Neptune Theatre. 

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Ravensdale-born Brandi Carlile plays to a raging crowd.

Award-winning local songstress, Brandi Carlile, rang in the New Year on her home turf, among friends at the Neptune Theatre. 

The holidays can be full of merriment, but they also include lifeless office parties and long dinners spent sitting next to oddball Uncle Bob. Thankfully, New Year’s Eve is the time to let your hair down and celebrate with friends. This New Year, a nearly-packed Neptune Theatre rang in 2012 with their closest friends and local singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, who provided a rockin’ soundtrack for the night’s festivities.

Actually, many people in the crowd probably were Carlile’s personal friends and family. Carlile is from Ravensdale, Washington, and began her career playing local venues. Early gigs included busking at the Pike Place Market and playing Duke’s Chowder House, but her 2005 debut album put her on the national radar. Rolling Stone even named her one of the “10 Artists to Watch in 2005.” A far cry from Duke’s Chowder House, in 2010 Carlile played two sold-out shows with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. It was recorded and released as a live album in May 2011 to both critical and commercial success.

“I’m so excited that I actually need to calm down!” laughed Carlile a few songs into the night. Her first-ever Seattle New Year’s Eve show, Carlile’s enthusiasm never flagged during the two-hour performance. Part of her personal excitement was being reunited with her band after recently concluding an extensive solo tour. Her bandmates include longtime collaborators and brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth (affectionately nicknamed “The Twins”), Josh Neumann on cello, the magnetizing Allison Miller on drums, and Jeb Bows on violin.

Carlile opened with “Dreams,” the fast-paced lead single from 2009’s “Give Up The Ghost” album. The crowd was clamorous as they waved homemade signs and sang along. “Tonight is gonna be a big party! We’re going to make it a night to remember!” Carlile promised.

There were plenty of favorites including “What Can I Say,” “Before It Breaks” and “Turpentine,” which included Carlile’s tradition of teaching the audience to harmonize and sing the chorus.

What made the New Year’s Eve show particularly special was the inclusion of rarely-played songs, new versions of standbys and material from Carlile’s upcoming studio album to be released in May.

“I want to shatter the illusion of the stage for a moment and go unplugged,” said Carlile before launching into “Dying Day.”  “I don’t have a show tomorrow and I haven’t started drinking yet, so I don’t have to worry about my voice,” she said as she ditched the microphone and leaned into the audience to sing. Carlile occasionally unplugs at shows, but this was one of the most effective efforts thanks to the Neptune’s more intimate size.    The experiment paid off and reinforced the show's house party vibe.

A particular treat was Carlile’s stripped-down version of “Looking Out.” The studio version has a strong drumbeat and quick tempo. “It sounds so different recorded from how it sounded (when I first wrote it) and before it left my bedroom,” explained Carlile. With just a guitar and her clear-as-a-bell voice, the live version was a combination of poetry and prayer in comparison with the anthem-like recorded version.

A handful of new material from her upcoming album promises good things. Carlile professes an affinity for country music because, as she says, it is more punk in spirit than punk rock itself. “Raise Hell” is a barn-stormin’, train-barreling-towards-you type of song from the forthcoming album. It is a bit country, a bit rock ‘n roll and all Carlile. The crowd loved it and signaled their approval by thrusting their drinks into the air and clapping along. It is destined to be a well-played single.

Some of the evening’s other best moments were thanks to a few brilliantly performed cover songs. Carlile invited the opening band, Ivan & Alyosha (a Seattle band who opened for Carlile’s 2011 ZooTunes concert), onstage for a joint performance of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down On the Corner,” which got the crowd dancing.

Following the New Year’s Eve countdown and a traditional run through of “Auld Lang Syne,” Carlile and crew kicked the party into high gear with a raucous version of the Ramone’s “I Wanna Be Sedated” followed by an ingenious rendition of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Phil Hanseroth sang lead and absolutely nailed the legendary vocals - he contorted his typically choir-boy voice into the screechy, bad-ass shrieks of the original.

“Playing in a rocking band/Hey Momma, look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land/I’m on the highway to hell,” sang Hanseroth.

A call to arms for rockers at heart, it brought the house down. “I’ve never heard Phil do that!” laughed Carlile in admiration. Once again, Carlile and her band proved that they are full of surprises. Wherever the highway takes them, their fans are happy to be along for the ride.


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